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Q & A with Trudi Webster, saving yellow-eyed penguins

The yellow-eyed penguin, thought to be one of the world’s rarest penguins, has a dedicated advocate – the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust (YEPT) – committed to saving this endangered species. The Otago Museum and Otago Regional Council jointly support the YEPT and the work of Dr Trudi Webster in her role as Conservation Science Advisor.


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Image: Kai time for a hungry hoiho, thanks to Trudi Webster.

How long you have worked at YEPT?

I started in February 2016, so a year and a half.

What does a day in the life look like when working at YEPT?

It’s very varied – I could be in the office, on a beach, crawling through scrub, at a meeting in Wellington or out on a boat. My role includes research (identifying gaps in our knowledge, setting up research projects), optimising management of the birds (ensuring good monitoring, improving habitat) and policy (advising stakeholders, writing submissions, developing strategies). Currently, I’m collaborating with a range of scientists at the University of Otago, Otago Polytechnic, the fishing industry, Department of Conservation and other conservation groups.

What do you love about your job?

Feeling like I am doing something worthwhile for conservation in New Zealand, and the diversity and challenges of the role. It certainly keeps me busy.

What are three key things you’d like people to take away about YEPT and the current situation?

  1. The mainland population of yellow-eyed penguins is declining rapidly. The hoiho is a national pin-up (there are photos of them everywhere); unfortunately this doesn’t reflect reality as there are only a few hundred birds left on the mainland. Numbers are so low that their threat status has increased recently to nationally endangered – facing high risk of extinction in the short term (New Zealand Threat Classification System).
  2. Penguins are important indicators of the state of our environment. The fact that they are declining means that there are wider ecosystem problems. A variety of threats interact and affect penguins on the land (eg mammalian pests, human disturbance) and in the sea (eg pollution, fisheries).
  3. Everyone can do their bit to help:
  • Keep your distance from birds on the beach to reduce stress 
  • Keep your dog on a leash near penguin habitat 
  • Reduce/reuse/recycle and dispose of rubbish carefully 
  • Think about what you put down your drains 
  • Buy fish caught using penguin-friendly methods.


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Image: Kai time for a hungry hoiho, thanks to Trudi Webster.


To support Trudi Webster’s work and that of the YEPT, go to the Trust’s website and see how you can help.