Sustainability: Duncan the Mechanic and the white-flippered penguins

LPC Mechanic Duncan Booth has partnered with the Environment Team to create a clever device that will be used to call penguins to nesting boxes at Battery Point historic area in Lyttelton Harbour. 

Duncan has built a waterproof penguin attraction sound system using a used car stereo, solar panel, 4WD battery, and a pair of horn speakers. 

“The battery is recycled from the straddle workshop and is slightly bigger than a car battery,” says Duncan.  

Recycled battery, car stereo and solar panel 

“The sound is a digital recording of a penguin call on an SD card which is fitted to the car stereo.”  

“The audio system is solar powered, and when the sunlight exceeds the amount of current the stereo draws, the excess power will go to the battery as storage to be used at night.” 

The sound will be broadcast at dusk and then from 10 pm every night for 4 hours on a loop when white flippered penguins start to scope out their nesting spots. 

Penguin calls broadcast at night 

“Obviously, it needs to be slightly louder than the noise of the sea or the swells crashing against the rocks there.” 

Found only in Canterbury, white-flippered penguins’ numbers are approximately 10,000. They nest in caves or rock crevices, under logs, and in human-made structures like nesting boxes. Some even have been found in the seawall built following reclamation works. 

Ports safe places for nesting 

LPC Environment and Sustainability Advisor Charlotte Jones said ports are surprisingly safe places for penguins to nest and breed.  

“Here at the Port of Lyttelton, no dogs are allowed on site, it is not accessible by the public, and Battery Point is the perfect nesting place with no ongoing development given its historical significance,” says Charlotte. 

“We are looking at putting out six or seven nesting boxes in June when we know they will start coming in and checking out new sites.” 

Like most penguins, the white-flippered penguins are monogamous, with the female laying two eggs, which are incubated for 36 days. 

Motion sensor cameras 

The LPC Environment Team will set up motion sensor trail cameras so as they come up to the sea wall, they trigger the camera, and we can see where they’re going. 

“We had some boxes down there last season, but we are pretty confident that while they weren’t used, the penguins usually come back to where they were born. 

“Anything like the speakers that we can do to encourage them back to the habitat is good for the penguin population.” 

While they won’t be nesting at the moment, one penguin has been heard by Coal Leading Hand Mark Boyd, who runs the lamella wastewater plant down at the site, which bodes well for the upcoming breeding season.

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