NZ Yellow-Eyed Penguins Could Be Extinct In 25 Years

First Posted: May 17, 2017 05:00 AM EDT

Yellow-eyed penguins are iconic in New Zealand. They are displayed on billboards as they greet tourists arriving at the main airports. However, despite their iconic status, they have not been protected as much as they have been marketed. Because of that, they could be extinct from the mainland in 25 years.

According to the Independent, only a few pairs of penguins now live in what once were busy breeding grounds. These birds are often caught in fishing nets and are often killed by unidentified toxins in the sea. Global warming is also thought to play a part in their dwindling populations.

New Zealand's other iconic birds, the northern brown kiwi and the Okarito brown kiwi, are already classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In a study published on the journal PeerJ, researchers developed a model to predict what could happen to the yellow-eyed penguins over the next decades. In the study, researchers found that the birds could become locally extinct by 2060, as ocean temperatures rise and affect their ability to breed.

Still, gillnets are among the biggest factors in taking out the penguin populations. In a Popular Science report, scientists believe that these animals get entangled in the nets, which have holes tailored to the size of fish they catch. Unfortunately, because the penguins do not see these gill nets, they end up drowning.

The lack of penguins in New Zealand is a problem not only for environmental concerns but for economuic reasons as well. Thomas Mattern, an ecologist at the University of Otago and lead author of the study, said that while four fishermen at the Otago peninsula could make a net profit of NZ$1 million (US$680,000), penguins bring in tourism. A single pair of penguions could bring in $250,000 per year to the local economy. With the penguin population dwindling fast, Mattern believes they have a bigger negative impact to the New Zealand economy.

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