At least 20 of the seabird species which breed in New Zealand are threatened or endangered. There are two main threats:
- Introduced predators. Defenceless chicks left alone on their nest while their parents forage at sea are vulnerable to rats, stoats and cats. Many species that once bred on the mainland are now confined to small predator-free islands.
- Fishing practices. Many albatross and petrel species are at risk because of accidents around fishing boats. Some get snagged taking bait from hooks on longlines, and others get tangled in nets. Because seabirds are naturally long lived and have low reproductive rates, even a small number of deaths can affect their population.
Beak by jowl
Every year, a great number and variety of seabirds flock to the predator-free islands of the Chathams group to breed. Crowded alongside each other are three species of albatross, one penguin, three shag and 13 petrel species. Seven of these are endemic (breed nowhere else), including the Chatham Island tāiko (Pterodroma magentae), perhaps the world’s rarest petrel.
Where to see seabirds
Observing seabirds around New Zealand is relatively easy. The best place to see pelagic (open-ocean) birds is offshore Kaikōura; a boat trip of a few kilometres affords sightings of a variety of albatrosses and petrels.
Otago Peninsula is famous for its royal albatrosses and yellow-eyed penguins, and observant visitors will also see several species of shag. Sooty shearwaters and other open-ocean birds can often be seen from the coast. There are accessible gannet colonies at Cape Kidnappers, Muriwai Beach and Farewell Spit. Little penguins can be seen at many places, but Ōamaru in North Otago offers the best viewing opportunities. A variety of shearwaters, prions, albatrosses and other seabirds are usually visible from Cook Strait and Foveaux Strait ferries, and from ferries and other vessels in the Hauraki Gulf. Other seabirds can often be seen close to shore around many parts of New Zealand, but observers may need binoculars to identify them.