Noodles & Albie by Eric Bennett with illustrations by Liz Bannish has won a Silver Mom’s Choice Award in the Children’s Picture Book category. The book about a lovable lost penguin and the fish that helps his find his way has been well received and garnered wonderful reviews. This is their first award for Noodles, Albie, Eric or Liz.
Abandoned African penguin chicks are easy to spot. Their flippers are too long for their bodies. Their chest bones are visible through their newborn plumage. They haven’t been fed by their parents for weeks because the adult birds are molting and unable to hunt in the ocean.
While adult penguins can survive 21 days without food, baby chicks cannot. Under normal conditions, the chicks would be out of their nests and able to survive the fast. But sparse fish populations around the South African shore limit chick’s growth and keep them nesting when adults reach the critical point when they must molt.
In response, researchers from the University of Cape Town head-reared hundreds of malnourished chicks from penguin colonies Dyer Island, Robben Island and Stony Point at the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds in Cape Town. The researchers admitted over 800 penguins in 2006 and nearly 500 in 2007.
“Often, the abandoned chicks we’re bringing up look quite sad for themselves,” lead researcher Richard Sherley said.
Most of the chicks were underweight for their age; researchers fed them a formula of liquidized fish and vitamins.
The penguins were marked with flipped bands then released back into the wild after an average month and a half of human care. The hand-raised chicks were just as likely to survive as their naturally-raised counterparts.
This success is promising for other seabird species facing dwindling populations. So long as the birds don’t attach to their surrogate human parents and can cope with living in captivity, humans raising baby birds could be a solution.
African penguin populations have shrunk by more than 70 percent since 2011, and the species has been classified as endangered since 2012.
“Hand-rearing of African penguin chicks is a valuable conservation tool in light of the declining population,” the researchers conclude in the full study, “Hand-Rearing, Release and Survival of African Penguin Chicks Abandoned Before Independence by Moulting Parents,” which was published Tuesday.
In the South African ecosystem, the baby penguins’ problems can be traced back to fish populations. Sardines and anchovies are African penguins’ main food source. Between rising sea temperatures and overfishing, especially of sardines, there aren’t as many fish to feast on as there were in previous decades.
Less fish means smaller or less frequent meals for the fledgling penguins. As a result, the baby birds are growing slower and are still chicks when their parents begin to molt. Unlike some birds, who shed a few feathers at a time, penguins must replace all their feathers at once. Since they don’t have waterproof feathers while molting, they stay on land and don’t hunt for the entire process.
Hand-rearing the chicks could help conserve the species in the short term, but the current colonies can only support so many penguins.
“We’re putting them back out into the colonies from where they came,” he said. “We’re trying to slow down the decline of colonies that are disappearing very rapidly.”
Sherley is curious how the human-raised penguins would fare if they were released as pioneers of new colonies on different parts of the South African shore.
The South African government is also experimenting with fishing regulations. The now-defunct South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism closed fishing around two pairs of islands. The penguin chicks around St. Croix and Bird islands were , and the area will soon be off-limits for fishing permanently. However, data for Robben and Dassen Island were inconclusive, and there is ongoing debate about whether to allow or halt fishing around the second pair of islands.
The Penguin Post has learned that the fluorescent vests sewn by penguin fans for the penguin loving volunteers are designed to help keep these folks keep the penguins safe on New Zealand’s Timaru’s coastline. Little blue penguin support group member Margaret McPherson designed the bright green vests for members to wear while on penguin duty on the beach at dusk.
“It’s so people know who to talk to or ask questions,” McPherson said.The $160 cost of material for the 21 vests was sponsored by a group member’s business and McPherson got help with sewing from friends and fellow group member Alwyn Adams. Made to fit all shapes and sizes, the vests have a reflective strip along the back and a pocket in the front to hold information pamphlets which, when printed, the members will distribute to penguin viewers. Group member Greg Adams said visitors to the district were really impressed that viewing the penguins was free and he hoped they could keep it that way. Educating the public helped to “stop idiots” disturbing the penguins, he said.It was also a way of sharing information. Recently a group member was made aware of where some chicks were, thanks to an eagle-eyed member of the public. Eggs are laid between August and December.
Eric Bennett, who has been selling penguin memorabilia for more than 25 years, is the owner of penguingiftshop.com, where shoppers can find anything from penguin umbrellas to penguin wedding-cake toppers. Illustrated by Liz Bannish, Noodles & Albie: A Penguin Journey is Bennett’s debut picture book—about a penguin named Noodles who gets some valuable advice from a fish named Albie. We chatted with Bennett about the collaboration, the advantages of self-publishing through an already established business, and his plans for a sequel.
Can you tell us a bit about how the project grew out of your lifelong obsession with penguins?
So, after years of telling and re-telling, adding on and fine-tuning the story, Rose, my youngest, asked me to read it to her kindergarten class. Of course I said yes, and decided to finally write it down. A week later I read it and the class and teacher loved it.
What made you realize that you finally wanted to team up on a picture book, and why did you choose to work with Liz Bannish?
It was one of those classic, serendipitous, good timing things. Liz worked in a cafe downstairs from where I lived in downtown Northampton. I had only just met her when I read Noodles to Rose’s class. So I walked into the cafe and told my friends about my little reading. I showed the story to Liz who said she liked it, and found it a very visual tale. The following weekend I went to see an art show that featured some of her work. I was immediately struck by her art as well as how satirical and ironic much of it was. Much of her art was of the natural world, and yet much of it surreal and kind of dark. But, within her work there was an omnipresent wry nod and a wink. To top it off, it was obvious she had a thing for the sea and sea creatures, real or fantastic. My only question as to whether or not her talent would translate to a picture book was answered a few days later when she brought me a sketch of Noodles based solely on how he’s described in the book, and she absolutely nailed him.
Since you have seen so many penguins over the years, was there an essential aspect of them you wanted to capture?
Of all animals, the penguin must be the hardest not to anthropomorphize. In their natural tuxedos, they just don’t walk upright, they have to go one better and waddle. They are naturally very communal animals, and [boast] the wonderful combination of being dignified and silly at the same time. [They are] very loyal and family oriented on land, and very courageous and autonomous in the sea. They are like two different animals above and below the water. Yet Liz and I are always amazed by their incredible projectile poop prowess. Velocity, distance, and accuracy—they are unsurpassed in the world in this respect. Which I suppose is the opposite of all things cute, which is probably why we embrace it.
Did you try to pitch the book to any publishers? Why did you think it would be a good idea to self-publish?
I did shop it to agents and publishers in New York. But, for the most part, they weren’t interested in taking on a first-time writer and first-time illustrator together. After a couple of months of the same responses, we gave up the search, and we were simply going to put it out as an e-book and offer it on my website. During the months it took Liz to finish her illustrations, a writer friend of mine told me about Small Batch Books, a local publishing company. We decided to meet with them and we were impressed with what they had produced and could offer us, and, in turn, they were impressed with Noodles & Albie. It was always on our minds that somehow Noodles & Albie would not just be an e-book. The advantage we have over a lot of other self-published books was that I already had my own all-penguin online store, with a large mailing list and social media presence. To publish with Small Batch and put it on my already built-in penguin-friendly platforms was a huge advantage for us. In other words, our book was not going into a black hole, but would be known about and promoted to thousands of like-minded penguin-loving people.
Will there be a follow-up book?
The next Noodles story is already written and it’s called Noodles & Albie’s Birthday Surprise. Obviously, it’s Noodles’ birthday, but the “surprise” part of the title is what adventures are in store for them, and the interesting characters they encounter along the way. Hopefully it’ll be available by next summer. We are presently searching for a [traditional] publisher for this and future Noodles & Albie projects, but it’s nice to know that we have [self-publishing] options.
The Penguin Post has learned that a new webbed site called Penguin Watch which has nothing to do with penguin watches. It is a citizen science Web site that is trying to understand the lives of penguins. To do this scientists have traveled to some of the coldest areas on the planet to learn more about penguin populations. Citizen scientists can help annotate hundreds of thousands of images of wildlife in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean taken over the past three years.
Penguin Watch features a tool that takes its own and other researchers’ time-lapse imagery and displays it to interested members of the public. This allows volunteers to click on penguins and help extract data from imagery. Individually mark adult penguins, chicks and eggs in an image by clicking on the center of each one’s visible area. Sometimes just a head or tail is showing, other times you’ll be able to mark the center of the chest/torso. Project organizers sometimes need their volunteers to mark up to 30 of each, although participants can mark more.
Mark any other animals too so researchers can see how often they are near the penguin nest. After classifying, citizen scientists can discuss a specific image or the whole project with the science team and other volunteers by visiting Talk Penguin Watch.
As if you needed another reason to pet a penguin the Penguin Post has learned that the Newport Aquarium near Cincinnati has a new personal penguin petting encounter may have serious health benefits. Alle Barber and Ric Urban have pretty cool jobs; they get to play with penguins. Both of them perform education and outreach for the Wave Foundation, so they get to spend a lot of time with penguins. So who better to talk to about how penguins help us heal? Ric admits that he can be having a rough day until he himself has a personal encounter with a penguin. “After thirty minutes, I feel great,” Ric said. “I am ready to go off and tackle the world again.” Alle said that a few minutes with an alligator will do the same thing. “It really does make you feel calm, and just peaceful,” she said, “It’s just this feeling that nothing else matters in the world.” In addition to that, there may some power to actually petting the animals. A recent report from the Mayo Clinic found that when scientists looked at those who were petting animals, they had surge in healing hormones that led to a feeling of peace and serenity While the effects are tough to quantify, just take a look at the penguins. Notice how you can’t help but smile?
No one wants to be at work on a Friday. But today, instead of spending all your precious procrastination time on Facebook or Twitter, spend it looking at penguins.
The Penguin Post has learned that It’s pretty simple: In Antarctica, remote cameras (shown above) are monitoring more than 30 colonies of penguins — populations that are in decline because of climate change. It’s more practical to leave recording devices there than it is to drop researchers long-term, given how distant and inhospitable the area is.
Researchers at Oxford University now have over 200,000 photos to sort through, and counting. That’s where you come in: When you log on to Penguin Watch, you’ll be presented with random photos from the collection.
All you have to do is properly tag the adult penguins, baby penguins, eggs, and any other animals in the frame. By helping the researchers turn penguins into data points, you’ll help them analyze how many penguins there are — and how their colonies are organized.
Where do they keep the eggs? Do young penguins hang out with old penguins? What happens when mating season comes around? Is that a rock, or a potential penguin predator? Scientists want to know, but first they’ve got to analyze a couple hundred thousand photos.
Eventually, all of this human input can be used to create a computer algorithm to do the job more quickly. But for now, get clicking. And don’t worry about mistakes — multiple people tag each photo, so someone else can make up for your penguin-tagging oversights.
Many birds undergo two very energy-demanding processes at this time of year: molt and migration. For adult penguins these fall immediately on the heels of another very demanding activity: nesting. Consequently, birds have evolved various strategies for keeping their energy budgets balanced. One common strategy is the temporal separation of energy-demanding activities. For example, birds generally do not molt while they are nesting or migrating.
But, the feathers that make up birds’ plumages do need to be replaced if they are to continue to serve the important dual purpose of providing insulation and, for most species, the ability to fly. This is where molt, the process of shedding old and growing new feathers, comes in. Molt intensity (the number of feathers molting at the same time) and rate (the speed of individual feather growth) varies greatly among species.
Migratory songbirds, which have comparatively little time between the end of the temperatesummer nesting season and the beginning of fall migration to distant tropical wintering grounds, have various molt strategies: Some molt intensely and rapidly, replacing all of their feathers in as little as five weeks; others start and then interrupt their molt, completing it later on the wintering grounds; a few delay molting altogether until after they reach their wintering grounds. In contrast, birds such as hawks and eagles, which hunt on the wing, have evolved a low-intensity, slow-paced molt strategy, in which individual feathers are gradually and continually replaced over many months, even during nesting and migration.
Of course, the birds living at the National Aviary molt, too. One species exhibits a very unusual molt strategy. Our African penguins undergo what is called “catastrophic molt,” which involves the rapid, nearly simultaneous shedding of all their feathers over the course of just a few weeks. They have been described as looking like “an exploded pillow” during this time. But, there is a good reason for this strategy.
For penguins, whose outer covering must be insulative, waterproof and hydrodynamic (the underwater equivalent of aerodynamic), the annual molt imposes a monthlong fast on dry land. When they are molting, African penguins lose an ounce of fat and a half ounce of protein every day to meet the energy demands of their intensive molt. To balance this, a seven-pound African penguin gains an additional 20 percent body mass, or 1½ pounds, in just a few weeks, and then sheds those extra pounds during its molt-induced fast. That’s like a 200-pound person gaining and losing 40 pounds in two months.
Visit the National Aviary during our fun-filled “Party With the Penguins” Sept. 27-28, and you will see our African penguins looking very sharp and sleek in their newly molted plumages. Special weekend activities will include taking selfies with our penguins, getting an opportunity to win your own birthday party with a penguin, and, for our younger visitors dressed in black-and-white party clothes, the chance to march in a penguin parade.
Waddle on down to the Camden New jersey Waterfront this Columbus Day Weekend (October 11 – 13) for Adventure Aquarium’s African Penguin Awareness Weekend festival, an annual celebration dedicated to everyone’s favorite little flightless feathered friends. This event features an array of “penguin-centric” activities, all of which raise money for the conservation of African Black-footed Penguins. Visitors will have the chance to meet African penguins up close during special appearances, enjoy live chats with biologists who will give the 411 on these adorable sea birds, watch custom penguin painting demonstrations or adopt one of our feathered friends in the Gift Shop.
The best part? 100% of the proceeds from the sales of Penguin Paintings and other fundraising items will go directly to support the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), a non-profit sea bird rehabilitation center based in Cape Town, South Africa that aims to conserve and protect South Africa’s threatened sea birds. For each purchase during Adventure Aquarium’s Penguin Awareness Weekend that benefits SANCCOB, Adventure Aquarium guests will receive an “I helped save a penguin today” sticker (while supplies last).
The Penguin Post has learned that a recent study of how penguin populations have changed over the last 30,000 years has shown that between the last ice age and up to around 1,000 years ago penguin populations benefitted from climate warming and retreating ice. This suggests that recent declines in penguins may be because ice is now retreating too far or too fast.
An international team, led by scientists from the Universities of Southampton and Oxford, has used a genetic technique to estimate when current genetic diversity arose in penguins and to recreate past population sizes. Looking at the 30,000 years before human activity impacted the climate, as Antarctica gradually warmed, they found that three species of penguin; Chinstrap, Adélie and southern populations of Gentoo penguins increased in numbers. In contrast, Gentoo penguins on the Falkland Islands were relatively stable, as they were not affected by large changes in ice extent.
A report of the research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Lead author of the paper, Gemma Clucas, from Ocean and Earth Sciences at the University of Southampton comments: “Whereas we typically think of penguins as relying on ice, this research shows that during the last ice age there was probably too much ice around Antarctica to support the large populations we see today. The penguins we studied need ice-free ground to breed on and they need to be able to access the ocean to feed. The extensive ice-sheets and sea ice around Antarctica would have made it inhospitable for them.
“What is particularly interesting is that after the ice age, all of these penguin populations were climate change ‘winners’, that is to say the warming climate allowed them to expand and increase in number. However, this is not the pattern we’re seeing today. Adélie and Chinstrap penguins appear to be declining due to climate change around the Antarctic Peninsula, so they’ve become ‘losers’. Only the Gentoo penguin has continued to be a ‘winner’ and is expanding its range southward.”
Dr Tom Hart of the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, an author of the paper, continues: “We are not saying that today’s warming climate is good for penguins, in fact the current decline of some penguin species suggests that the warming climate has gone too far for most penguins.
“What we have found is that over the last 30,000 years different penguin species have responded very differently to a gradually warming world, not something we might expect given the damage current rapid warming seems to be doing to penguins’ prospects.”
To estimate changes in penguin genetic diversity, the researchers collected feathers and blood samples from 537 penguins in colonies around the Antarctic Peninsula. The scientists then sequenced a region of mitochondrial DNA that evolves relatively quickly. Using the rate of mutation of this region of DNA as a calibration point, the researchers were able to chart how the size of these populations has varied over time. The team working on the project included scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and also US scientists from Oceanites Inc, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.
“During the last ice age Antarctica was encircled by 100 per cent more winter sea ice than today,” says Dr Tom Hart. “As ice retreated, these penguins had access to more breeding sites and more open ocean to feed.”