The Penguin Post has learned about a unique penguin ambassador that may be waddling to a school or event near you (if you live in the Boston area). Later this week residents of the Hannah Duston Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home in Haverhill Massachusetts, will be getting a visit from a very special tuxedoed gentleman, Roast Beef the African penguin. He resides at the New England Aquarium, but his real gig is being a specially trained penguin ambassador, spreading smiles and penguin cheer on his outings to schools and community events. The five-pound penguin even travels in his own special air-conditioned crate. This will be Roast Beef’s first time at a nursing home, but aquarium officials aren’t worried because, they say, “Penguins are clearly loved by people of all ages.” Clearly. It’s bound to be a magical visit, since Roast Beef’s nickname is “The Ladies Man.”
Posts Tagged ‘New England Aquarium’
You wouldn’t think it, but when it comes to water, penguins aren’t naturals. “Some of them are terrified,” says Bethany Wlaz, a keeper at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. So each time African penguins are born into the zoo’s breeding program for the endangered birds, someone like Wlaz becomes their swimming coach. But first comes the introduction to being wet. Soft as a cotton ball and about the size of a football, Male One — hatched on Oct. 12 — is lowered into a stainless steel sink by Wlaz and Betty Dipple, another animal keeper. “Araaah,” the bird protests, as a stream of lukewarm water washes over its head and flippers. “Araaah.” Back and belly, tail feathers and webbed feet, nothing escapes the faucet. Five minutes later, the penguin’s first bath is in the can. While Male One is being dried and wrapped in a fluffy towel, Male Two — four days younger — gets the same treatment and emits a similar donkey-like bray. Puffs of gray down float in the air. “They’re getting the full salon service,” Wlaz says. Doting on African penguins has been a Maryland Zoo specialty for more than three decades. With 55 to 65 birds living at the moat-enclosed area known as Rock Island, the zoo has one of the largest breeding colonies in the country. Another major colony is at the New England Aquarium in Boston. The work is of global importance because African penguins, found only along the southern shore and islands of Africa, are teetering on the edge of extinction. As the Penguin Post has learned all to well their numbers have declined from as many as 4 million in the early 1900s to 60,000 in 2010, according to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds. Fewer than half of them are estimated to be breeding pairs. African penguin eggs were targeted up until the 1960s by people who considered them a delicacy and scooped them up by the millions.
The penguins’ habitat has been destroyed by commerce and oil spills, and overfishing and climate change have depleted their food, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The Assn. of Zoos and Aquariums has developed a species survival plan to map out breeding to ensure a strong genetic pool while scientists and conservation groups try to stabilize the population. The Maryland Zoo keeps breeding pairs on hand and distributes other penguins to zoos for display or breeding. The parents of Male One and Male Two — proper names are coming, zoo officials promise — came to Baltimore a year ago. The father hailed from Tampa and the mother from Memphis. They quickly became a family of four, with the newborns spending three weeks with their parents before keepers took over the domestic duties. “It’s hard to have an entirely bad day when you’re around penguins,” Dipple says as she slides a chunk of squid into the gaping black beak of Male One. The chicks weigh 4.9 pounds and 3.8 pounds. When fully grown right around Christmas, they’ll be 23 to 25 inches tall, will weigh about 8 pounds and will be fully decked out in black-and-white plumage.
With Penguin Place one of the sponsors of last weeks International Penguin Conference at the New England Aquarium in Boston. The experts and scientists who gathered at the conference have agreed on one thing. Of the 18 penguin species on Earth, 13 are considered either threatened or endangered, with some species on the brink of extinction.
“I hope that people will hear the word that they are in trouble, the oceans are in trouble,” said Heather Urquhart, manager of the New England Aquarium’s penguin exhibit and organizer of the conference. “I hope we get together and make some changes and hopefully stem the tide of what’s going on with these species.”
“They occupy a niche fairly unexplored by other bird species,” Urquhart said. “They evolved from birds of flight, and evolved not to fly so they could exploit the ocean resources that flying seabirds couldn’t get to. Many species spend 80 percent of their lives at sea.”
Emperor penguins are the largest of the penguin species, and mate and breed on the ice of Antarctica. They make a harrowing trek across up to 75 miles (120 kilometers) of ice to reach breeding colonies during the frigid Antarctic winter, and after chicks are born males and females take turns diving for food and caring for the young.
While this life can be rather austere, for now it is sustaining: Emperor penguins are rated of least concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
“I think they’re faring a lot better than some other species,” said conference presenter Gerry Kooyman, a biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego who studies emperor penguins. The “massive amount of Antarctic ice is a buffer; it adds some level of stability. Even though some of the ice is declining, there’s a much greater buffer of ice there than in the Arctic.”
Not faring so well are species such as erect-crested penguins, a New Zealand native that has lost about 70 percent of its population over the last 20 years. The Galápagos penguin, endemic to the Galápagos Islands around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, has experienced a population decline of over 50 percent since the 1970s, and faces a 30-percent chance of extinction in this century, said Tony LaCasse, spokesman for the New England Aquarium.
“One big incident could wipe out that population,” Urquhart said. Other species like the yellow-eyed penguin of New Zealand, and the northern rockhopper penguin that breeds on islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean, are also endangered (the latter has declined by 90 percent over the last 50 years, according to a 2009 paper in the journal Bird Conservation International).
African penguins, a once robust iconic species in Namibia and South Africa, have experienced a precipitous decline and were recently reclassified as endangered.
“It’s a very disturbing sign that that should happen in a species that was once so abundant, and it’s occurring right before our eyes,” Kooyman said.
The reasons for these declines vary according to species, with some penguins being hit from all sides by multiple threats. Common dangers to penguin survival are pollution and human appropriation of habitats, as well as new mammalian predators such as dogs, cats and weasels that have been introduced by humans to penguins’ environments. Some penguins are caught as by catch by commercial fishers, and others are starving because fisheries are harvesting most of the prey available to penguins. Oil dumping and algae blooms in the oceans are also wreaking havoc on their food supply and habitats.
Q: What do Pip, Roast Beef, Pikkewynne and Sanccob have in common?
A: They are names of African penguins at the New England Aquarium. With 11 African Penguin chicks being released to live among the penguins that make their home at the New England Aquarium, penguin fans now have the chance to name a penguin.
The Penguin Chick Naming Contest, which runs until 5 p.m, Aug. 23, invites penguin post readers to submit a name for one African penguin. The person who offers the most captivating name will be treated to a behind-the-scenes tour at the Aquarium. The winner will be announced online at www.neaq.org on Aug. 25. He or she will see the breeding area where the chicks were hatched and have the chance to speak with Aquarium biologists.
In following suit with African penguins that are already part of the Aquarium’s 90-penguin exhibit, a NEAq biologist will choose a name that teaches visitors something about African penguins. For example, Pip was named after the lengthy process penguin chicks go through to break out of the shells, known as “pipping,” and Pikkewynne is the word for penguin in Africkaans. Roast Beef and Plum Pudding were named for the islands of the coast of Namibia, which is where African penguins breed. The islands were named by hungry sailors.
Click on the penguin button on the NEAq website to learn more about African penguins and to enter the contest. If the winning name is offered by more than one person, the person who submitted the name first will be declared the winner, so send your name today.
The New England Aquarium may not have six geese a-laying, as the Christmas carol dictates, but it does have six new penguins a-swimming.
Six female rockhopper penguins were released into the penguin pool yesterday in time for the holiday, arriving from SeaWorld in Orlando.
New England Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse told the Penguin Post that the newcomers, which are native to southern Argentina and Chile, were adapting well to their new home.
“They just went into the exhibit this morning with little disruption,’’ LaCasse said. “Everyone’s figuring things out.’’
Aquarium officials hope the addition of the six females, which range from 1 to 9 years old, will spark romantic interest in the male-dominated tank and bolster the penguin population.
LaCasse said penguins typically find a mate and remain monogamous. They stand 18 to 20 inches high and weigh about 5 pounds. Rockhopper penguins typically have a 30-year life span in aquariums and up to 20 years in the wild, he said.
The new arrivals bring the aquarium’s penguin population to nearly 90 birds, from different species.