Archive for May, 2013

How Penguins Forgot How To Fly

May 31, 2013

Penguins can move underwater with the speed of a swallow or swift, but cannot fly even as far as a chicken. The Penguin Post asks how did a bird that in some cases shuffles 40 miles to its breeding grounds on unsuitable flippers end up losing its ability to fly there quickly?

A team of researchers from the UK, US, Canada and China have put forward a theory of how the penguin lost its ability to fly, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today.

Professor John Speakman, Chair of Zoology at the University of Aberdeen, was part of the international team and carried out the number-crunching that showed how, over time, penguins found it more advantageous to have a wing suited to swimming than flying.

He said: “Wings that have to do two jobs, flying and diving, can’t be good at both. As a wing evolves to be better at diving it gets worse at flying, until the energy demands of flight become so great that eventually the penguin gives up flying altogether.”

Emperor Penguins waddle when they walk but you should see them swim.

Emperor Penguins waddle when they walk but you should see them swim.

The albatross is an example of a long, light wing well-adapted for flying, while a short wing with heavy bones like a penguin’s is more suited to swimming. “They are complete opposites,” Prof Speakman said.

As its wing evolved, the penguin would have become a better diver and a worse flyer, until one day the prospect of launching itself into the air with difficulty no longer appealed.

To test the theory the team studied auks, a family of seabirds very similar to penguins, that catch fish below the water’s surface but which still have the ability to fly. Using the doubly-labelled water method, Speakman was able to work out how much CO2 the birds produced as they swam, flew, or sat about. From this he could extrapolate how much energy these activities needed.

Dive-fishing auks are black and white like penguins, but unlike penguins they can get airborne.

Dive-fishing auks are black and white like penguins, but unlike penguins they can get airborne.

He explained: “We found auks have exceptional diving abilities, almost as good as a penguin, but their flight costs are enormous – the highest ever measured. This matched the theory exactly.”

In their capacity to fly and dive they were “on the cusp” of becoming like penguins, he said. In fact the Great Auk, a species of auk hunted to extinction in the 19th century, had already lost the ability to fly, in keeping with the theory.

Had there ever been a flying penguin? “The fossil record doesn’t actually contain a flying penguin,” he said. “The first one we have was already flightless, and that was about 60 million years ago.”

So while it seems extremely maladaptive to see emperor penguins penguins wobbling miles across the ice to their rookeries, it stems from a trade-off far back in the evolutionary chain that saw their wings adapt to their increasingly aquatic environment and lose the ability to fly.

“When you see them swimming underwater,” Speakman said, “you truly get a sense of what they gained in return.”

Seaworld’s Antarctica: Empire Of The Penguins

May 31, 2013

As far as the Penguin Post is concerned the hottest new penguin attraction in the world will melt your penguin loving heart, but the chilly Antarctic conditions are perfect for the cutest penguins this side of the South Pole.

SeaWorld’s Antarctica: Empire Of The Penguin is home to 250 of the birds and it’s the closest that most of us will ever get to experiencing the South Pole.

This exciting, clever attraction takes you on a -1°C journey through a frozen wilderness to join the colony of penguins which you can watch as they waddle and glide on snow and dive and soar through the water. The brilliant ride, which opened on Friday, begins with a choice — taking one of the “wild” or “mild” saucer-shaped vehicles which seat eight people. You get the same experience in both — the wild just spins around faster and rocks — so I’d go for the shorter queue.


The innovative trackless cars shimmy along one of 32 paths through 50ft glaciers and frozen waterfalls, with video of Antarctica seen through the eyes of an animated penguin called Puck.

It gets colder and colder on the three-minute-50-second journey to the penguins, all to a musical score performed by a 65-piece orchestra.

And then your vehicle turns you round to see the stars of this magnificent show.

Four penguin species — king, Adelie, rockhopper and Puck’s gentoo — live in this state-of-the-art empire which mirrors their real home. Ten tons of snow fall on the birds daily and the light cycle follows that in the southern hemisphere, so it changes from sunrise to sunset and springtime light to wintertime dark. Once you’ve seen the penguins, heard them and been splashed by them, you can watch them underwater in a 16ft-deep pool from a three-level viewing area with floor-to-ceiling windows.


Antarctica: Empire Of The Penguin superbly combines the thrill factor of a ride with teaching families about penguins and their habitats. Three years in the making, it is the brainchild of creative director Brian Morrow.

At the launch he told me: “It is overwhelming to see the result, it has exceeded all expectations.

“This is Antarctica at its best and the attraction is so full of wonder and emotion, you actually come away believing you’ve been to that frozen world. Everyone loves penguins and people of all ages can take this big adventure. That’s why we created two ride experiences, so no one is excluded.”

Simon Veness, author of Brit Guide To Orlando, told me: “It’s freaky good, with the accent on freaky. The effect of entering Antarctica is truly surreal and, because the ride vehicles have no tracks, you have no idea where you are going. It’s unique and the exit to the penguins is stunning and magnificent.”


Seaworld’s Empire of The Penguin Ride Creator

May 31, 2013

Brian Marrow is obsessed with icebergs, wind patterns and cold-weather penguins. All for good reason, too. For the past three years, he’s been part of the creative team that conjured up SeaWorld Orlando’s latest attraction, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, which opened last week.

As the senior director of attraction development and design at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, it’s his job to make this new “realm” feel like a tantalizing tundra, from the shimmering faux glaciers to the 2,500 handblown icicles made of Pyrex.

“We wanted to take guests somewhere that they might not go on their own,” he said. “And there is no greater adventure than a journey to the bottom of our planet.”

It’s an elaborate adventure, indeed, that includes a first-of-its-kind family thrill ride, an expansive penguin habitat, underwater viewing area, gift shop and restaurant. With a footprint of nearly 4-acres, it is the largest expansion project in the park’s history.

First up: the newfangled high-tech ride. But before hopping aboard, guests shuffle through rooms where the temperature gradually drops, preparing them for extreme temps at the end of the ride. Meanwhile, an animated pre-show introduces the star, a baby penguin named Puck. Then, guests choose their level of adventure: “wild” or “mild. “

“The ride had a sensation of gliding over ice just as a penguin would,” said Lake Mary, Fla., resident Susie Guyers, who experienced the ride at a preview event. “We didn’t know which direction was next; it wasn’t a set path.” That’s all thanks to a trackless system, which allowed engineers to create 32 different ride scenarios.

Even cooler, though, is what comes next. The ride exits into a 30-degree penguin palace with varied levels of fake rocks, a swimming area and a 2-foot wall that serves as the only barrier between guests and birds. The 6,125-square-foot habitat is home to 245 Gentoo, Rockhopper, Adélie and King penguins, which were the main attraction for Guyer.

“We were so close we could have gotten splashed,” she said. “The penguins were really active; they were diving up out of the water and back in. It truly felt like we were no longer in Florida.”

Slowly, One by One The Penguins Steal My Sanity

May 31, 2013

It’s not enough that we have a street sign that reads Slowly, One By One The Penguins Steal My Sanity, but today we received a shipment of t-shirts as well.  If you look closely you’ll see that the l’s in the copy are silhouettes of penguins.  Pretty clever, eh?