In this photo by Bullit Marquez, Roman Catholic priest Jacob Gomes blesses a 4-month-old Humboldt penguin before it takes its first swim at the Manila Ocean Park in the Philippines. The park launched its baby penguin attraction Wednesday and announced the winner of a contest to choose the baby’s name, Kaya, meaning competence or ability in Tagalog. Before the penguin’s first swim, it was placed in one side of a pool, separated from its penguin parents by a net. During the blessing, Gomes stressed the importance of environmental conservation and the need for people to protect all species of marine life, which are “a creation of God.” Kaya was born July 8 and is the first penguin to be born in the country. Its gender is not yet known.
The Penguin Post has learned that a Chinstrap penguin chick which has the unglamorous title of ‘184’ until it is given a name, was hatched at SeaWorld in San Diego 12 weeks ago, though the first images of her were only made public this week.
184, who is the first penguin to be born via artificial insemination, represents a huge step for researchers in helping to diversify captive penguin populations and aid their studies.
The Penguin Post has learned that teacher Christina Greenwood, of Wanaka, New Zealand leaves next month on an expedition to the Auckland Islands to count yellow-eyed penguins. And, she says, if previous counts are anything to go by, she will have somewhere between none and ”heaps” of penguins to count.
Ms Greenwood, who teaches geography, tourism and social studies at Cromwell College, and another teacher, Frazer Dale, from Auckland, were selected by the Sir Peter Blake Trust to join eight Department of Conservation staff and volunteers carrying out the survey at various nesting sites around the islands. The team leaves Bluff, aboard the yacht Evohe, on November 17. Ms Greenwood said she hoped the trip would benefit her pupils by increasing their awareness of the ”amazing resources” New Zealand has guardianship of and by creating connections with the trust.
Originally from the north of England, Ms Greenwood has sailed with her husband and two young daughters through the Pacific Islands but has not been south of New Zealand before. ”It might be quite a rough passage to get there and then I think we are just expecting fairly wet and windy conditions.” Ms Greenwood is a fully qualified sailing, climbing, kayaking and mountaineering instructor. Before dawn each morning, she and other team members will be dropped at points around the islands. ”We’ll end up going ashore in the dark and then walking to our counting sites. ”Because [the penguins] go out to sea at dawn, you have got to be in place before they get up.” The last estimate was done in 1989 and since 2009 Doc and the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust have been gathering data to calculate a revised population.
The penguin counting team will return to Bluff on November 30, weather permitting.
Why are we so fascinated by penguins? They all look alike (to us), dress well, and seem happy to bobble along across a frozen landscape as part of a more or less orderly society. Okay, so their habits bear a passing resemblance to ours — except for the orderly society part. “The Penguin Tango” the current Redhouse, in Syracuse NY exploits the similarities between us and them to delightful effect.
Inspired by the reports of bonded male penguin couples as observed in zoos around the world, Redhouse Executive Artistic Director Stephen Svoboda has used the stories of real-life penguin partners to create “The Penguin Tango,” which premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2006. He transfers all their stories to the Bremerhaven Zoo in Germany, where a few years back actual attempts to break up gay penguin couples to foster breeding resulted in vociferous protests from LGBT advocacy groups.
Happily, “The Penguin Tango” keeps the social engineering humans out of the picture so we can concentrate on the birds themselves, here portrayed as classic clown types. The focus is on happy partners Royale and Silo. Royale broods over a rock which he imagines is his egg, which he calls Tango. Silo humors him and practices his juggling act, hoping to be discovered by Seaworld. The trouble begins with the zoo’s attempts to mate Royale with a breeding female. They change his name to Roy and engage in an especially cruel (and hilarious) type of aversion therapy.
When the group figures out the gender differences between humans, whom they call suits and dresses, the next step is to understand what the word ‘homosexual’ means to those creatures on the other side of the fence. Roy’s forced epiphany has caused such chaos in the penguin exhibit that his friends stage an intervention.
“The Penguin Tango” really flies (unlike penguins. They don’t.) when the clowns are waddle-racing about the enclosure freaked out by the way their ordered gay lifestyle has been thrown into chaos. The cast is impeccable (sorry), and Svoboda gives them great bits to play with. Steve Hayes plays Wendell, the flamboyant penguin house master of ceremonies, who preens for the zoo’s visitors and attempts undercover work in a trench coat and fedora. As Cass, Wendell’s entrepreneurial partner, Jason Timothy shows the bearing and befuddlement of a classic clown with a touch of Beckett about him. John Bixler carries most of the thematic weight as the confused and often sadsack Roy. Adam Perabo is his partner Silo, who has the soul of an entertainer, but the skills of a penguin.
The featherless doofus Curly (Chris Coffey), alternately slack-jawed or illuminated by an idiot grin, vibrates with joy, discovery, or just for the heck of it. The ungainly but ready-to-mate female Gomez (Brittany Melendez) reads Cosmo to figure out how to get and keep her bird. Her target, lothario Giovanni (Jonathan Wells), struts about offering advice and snippets of poetry. Swedish temptress Dia (Laura Austin), looking like Heidi gone bad, tries every trick in the book to heat things up with Roy. Chad Tallon is marvelous as a “fishitarian” gay polar bear.
Svoboda directs his loose-limbed cast to work at a breakneck pace. If you miss one joke, another is very close behind. Tim Brown’s stage design suggests both a zoo enclosure and the door-slamming setting for classic farce. The costumes by Nikki Dehomme, imaginative variations on penguins’ famous formalwear are terrific and in some cases one might say fabulous.
For all the glorious clowning, the sometimes preachy “The Penguin Tango” goes on a bit too long. There’s a spectacular slightly shorter play nesting somewhere in the already funny but overstuffed two and a half hour show.
What: “The Penguin Tango” at the Redhouse.
Where: Redhouse Arts Center, 201 S. West Street, Syracuse.
When seen: October 24
Length: Two and a half hours with intermission.
Attendance: approximately 95 (near capacity)
Family Guide: good for mature teens. Younger kids might enjoy the clowning but need explanations.
Runs to: November 1
Information: (315) 362-2785, theredhouse.org.
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?