This shag is becoming very common along the rocky coastline of the Abel Tasman. If you arrived in the Park on a water taxi you will have seen them on the rock face during your stop at Split Apple Rock. You may also have seen them flying in formation low over the water or perched on other exposed coastal cliffs.
Some spotted shags breed on cliff faces, but it is assumed that the majority only spend the non-breeding months here - departing for the Canterbury coast in September and staying away through to March.
Adult breeding birds are elegant and colourful, sporting a double crest, bright green-blue facial skin and blue eye rings. The species gets its name from the small black spots that appear near the tip of each back and wing covert during the breeding season. Outside of the breeding season the plumage is duller, the crests are missing and the neck stripe is less apparent.
Spotted shags feed in deep water up to 16 km offshore. The longest dive recorded was 70 seconds. Shags have less oil on their feathers than other sea birds, which allows them to dive deeper. The trade-off is that their feathers get wetter, which is why you may see them drying themselves on rocks, wings outstretched.
They often have a mass of small stones (‘rangle’) in their gizzards. The function of these stones is debated, whether they are used as ballast, to grind up food, or even to create an inhospitable environment for gut parasites. This load of pebbles is disgorged from time to time and it is a local phenomenon to observe this spectacle at dawn on Tata Beach in Golden Bay.