Monday, February 20, 2012

Rare Animals on the Otago Peninsula

Today turned out to be the most pleasant surprise of the trip. I drove 3.5 hours across the South Island to the city of Dunedin for a collection of wildlife tours on the Otago Peninsula. It was well worth it.

I'll keep the focus on the photographs but some quick fun facts about the animals I met today to match the photos:

+ The Albatross - the bird with the longest wingspan - is much bigger in person than what one would imagine. It stands more than half my height, and with wings outspread, it nearly doubles my height.

After being born, Albatross chicks immediately head out to sea; they spend the next five years circling the south Pacific, eating and sleeping on the water. The first time they return to land is after five years, and that apparently makes for some hilarious crash landings.

The Otago Peninsula is the only mainland location in the entire world where the Albatross breeds. You will see a mother with her chick underneath her here.

+ A nearby beach is a haven for rare wildlife. First there is the Hooker's Sea Lion - the rarest of five species of sea lion in the world. They were hunted to extinction on the mainland by the Maori centuries ago, and they only survived on small islands between South Island and Antarctica. Then some started to repopulate the mainland. 180 live on New Zealand today. Like the penguins below, these were only a few yards away from us.

+ On the same beach there are the Yellow Eyed Penguins - the rarest species of penguin in the world. These guys have little in common with most other penguins. They do not migrate; they return to the same beach every night, where they nest up the hill in secluded homes. They mate for life, but they will not breed if their nest is visible to any other penguins. They also live harmoniously with the sheep on the farm on the hill above the beach.

The penguins were only a few feet away from our path. One of them returned to the beach with an injured right foot and was hobbling around, which was sad to watch.

+ Finally, there were the Fur Seals, also hunted to near extinction on the mainland of New Zealand. Now there's been a huge resurgence. Today we witnessed a breeding colony on the bottom of a cliff. The pups were adorable.

Finally, here are some scenic shots of the peninsula. Thanks for following my blog. I hope you enjoyed it!

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