New Zealand earthquake: fears for wildlife along devastated coastline

Colonies and breeding grounds of seals, dolphins and penguins directly in path of landslides and upheaval, say experts, as quake magnitude upgraded to 7.8

The New Zealand earthquake has led to fears for endangered marine wildlife colonies, with experts unable to get to sea to assess their condition.

Aftershocks have continued three days after the disaster, leaving the risk of tsunamis on the coast. Navy ships have been the only marine vessels able to approach the heavily hit town of Kaikoura in the South Island.

An underwater canyon 800 metres off the shore of Kaikoura is responsible for a rich array of marine animals attracted to the area, including half a dozen species of whale, rare and endangered dolphins, blue penguins, New Zealand fur seals and protected native bird life.

The HMNZS Canterbury, which departed Auckland on Monday night, rescued 390 people from Kaikoura and was heading south for the port of Lyttelton, outside Christchurch.

Naval vessels from the US, Australia and Canada were on route to Kaikoura to aid in the relief effort after what Geonet scientists called one of the most complex earthquakes ever recorded on land. The measured strength of the initial quake was upgraded on Wednesday to magnitude 7.8, from 7.5.

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