But the beach was busy with youth hanging out (up to no good, probably). Some were alone, and some were in groups, strutting their stuff.
But these youth weren’t your usual crowd of city kids, they were juvenile spotted shags, Strictocarbo punctatus punctatus, also known as spotted cormorants, parekareka, and kawau tikitiki.
Shags were once heavily persecuted as pests. Fisherman believed they destroyed the fisheries, snapping up all the commercial fish and decimating their numbers. Research has shown, however, that their impact on fisheries is minimal. On the other hand, there is some evidence that, in our area at least, shag populations are hurt by commercial fishing. Spotted shag populations on the Banks Peninsula rose from 9,787 pairs in 1960 to 22,123 pairs in 1996 following a reduction in commercial fishing around the peninsula. Illegal shooting can also cause local population declines.
The spotted shag is a marine species, never venturing far from the sea and feeding in deep water up to 16 km from shore. They’re gregarious, breeding and roosting in colonies with up to 2000 birds. The groups of juveniles on our beach were small—a few dozen birds at most. These birds were probably born on cliffs around the Banks Paninsula, and when mature, they’ll head back to those cliffs to lay eggs and rear their young.
So they really were just hanging out on the beach, just like teenagers from Christchurch hang out on the beach on weekends, away from the adults, goofing off and getting takeaways.