Celebrate Penguins!

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Art from a greeting card; originally in London Tube advertisement to entice you to ride subway to the London Zoo.

April 25th is World Penguin Day! People in Australia and New Zealand may already be celebrating!

I adore penguins. I will extend my celebration until Saturday when Mom and I are going to see the new film, Penguins.

Celebrating Penguin Awareness with Dr. Michelle LaRue

 

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Estimating populations of penguins is a challenge given the ice even in summer. Can you tell the difference between Adelie and Emperor penguins? Photo from https://emperorpenguinchange.blogspot.com/

Dr. Michelle LaRue is an ecologist and science communicator who specializes in using Geographic Information Systems, satellite imaging and other tools to count penguin, seal and mountain lion populations. I follow @drmichellelarue on Twitter—I especially enjoy her #Cougarornot game. She recently moved from the University of Minnesota to the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, NZ. This new adventure includes research opportunities in Antarctica.

The USA and New Zealand have a history of collaboration in Antarctica. The McMurdo research station is just down the road from the Kiwi Scott base, and both are supported from Christchurch. Dr. LaRue agreed to answer questions about this new opportunity.

Q: You’ve done research in Antarctica whilst maintaining your University home base at University of Minnesota. What prompted the move to New Zealand?

A: A faculty position with Gateway Antarctica at the University of Canterbury! Here I will continue my research on the ecology of Southern Ocean predators and look forward to building a lab in the next few years.

Q: From your new position, what do you hope you’ll be able to contribute to our understanding of penguins and the endangered polar habitats?

A: My goal is to effectively fill in the pieces of the puzzle that are missing – we’ve got several baseline population estimates now for Adélie and emperor penguins and we’re doing the same for Weddell seals and crabeater seals. Once those pieces are filled in, we get to start asking: why? Why are these populations in certain spots and not others? How do these species interact with each other across space and time? How might climate change impact their populations and habitats? To ask these questions we first need to know how many animals there are and where they live, so that’s my focus at the moment.

Q: Have you experienced an earthquake yet in Christchurch? And what is your favorite discovery about living in New Zealand?

A: For the first time, I felt a 3.2 earthquake back in December, though I will say the people around me didn’t even notice! I think my favorite discovery or realization is just how unbelievably beautiful it is – I mean this is something I knew before but now that I live here it’s remarkable to me how much diversity there is in the landscape in just a short distance. It’s an incredibly beautiful place to be an outdoor enthusiast!

Recall that it is currently summer in Antarctica, so she was in the field this past November. You can follow her team’s current research at https://emperorpenguinchange.blogspot.com/. Dr. LaRue also has links to a number of her video presentations and written papers on her website.

Dr. LaRue works on teams gauging the status of Adélie and Emperor penguin populations in Antarctica. There are things we can do to reduce human impacts on penguins and their habitat. First, more efficient fishing vessels are harvesting the krill that makes up the food supply of penguins and whales. It is important that we stop using krill oil (I didn’t realize this was a thing; however, a quick Google search and apparently lots of people are taking it as supplements). Second, the ice is shrinking in both polar regions due to rising ocean temperatures from rising CO2. We can all reduce our use of fossil fuels by riding a bike, walking, or carpooling.

Monterey Bay a Superb Marine Sanctuary

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I became a member when my grandson was born. This trip we are celebrating his second birthday with multiple trips to the Aquarium.

As a member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I try to visit as often as I can. Indeed, the entire Monterey Bay offers an opportunity to observe marine life. Just a few days ago a “superpod” of dolphins was caught on video by the Aquarium staff. As my 2 year old grandson would say, “Wow!”

https://www.npr.org/2018/09/07/645677562/watch-superpod-of-dolphins-seen-racing-off-california-coast

The Monterey Bay Aquarium gives those of us unable to snorkel or dive the opportunity to see life under the sea. The Open Sea exhibit has hammerhead sharks and two sea turtles. I spent at least 5 minutes watching the female octopus actively exploring her space.

The sea otters are favorites. Sometimes it is hard to appreciate them because of the crowds. My friend UK Sarah was reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck and he didn’t mention sea otters. I double checked with the docents and they agreed the sea otters were almost hunted to extinction when Steinbeck was in Monterey County. They began to make a comeback in the mid-70s. The growing public support for marine life made it possible to establish the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 1992. The kelp forests are essential for the otters, yet without otters the urchins proliferate and eat the kelp forests. Thanks to the Aquarium’s education and conservation programs the Bay has become a much friendlier place for all marine life.

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I learned a few things on these visits to the Aquarium. Two year olds (not just Calvin) will vocalize in a way that sounds a lot like screaming like a monkey when they are frightened by the “ocean wave experience” or a scary fish. Mostly though they are in awe and very excited to take it all in.

And I still love the penguins!

 

Black Penguin: Antarctic Travel Memoir Inspires

Evans bookIf you read my blog you know I have a fascination with penguins. I was looking for books on the Satellite Sisters summer reading list whilst in a Washington DC bookshop and The Black Penguin by Andrew Evans caught my eye. On his first assignment with National Geographic, he fulfills many of his geeky childhood dreams on this grand adventure.

It is a hybrid book–part personal memoir, part travelogue. Evans is an accomplished writer so every chapter kept my attention. I was particularly empathetic to the chapters about his experience growing up Mormon and gay. I have a few friends in my life from a similar background, but anyone who has felt like an outsider–and if you travel then you know this feeling–can relate to his pain of feeling completely misunderstood and alone.

He also decides to travel by bus from Washington, DC to Ushuaia, Argentina to board the National Geographic vessel to Antarctica. I enjoyed living vicariously through him and decided that I’d rather never travel by bus anywhere if I can avoid it. Lesson learned.

Use this link to watch the now famous black penguin video: https://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/b2a_blackpenguin

The first 258 pages are all building to the last couple of chapters of penguins! and stories from his month on National Geographic Explorer. Sheer bliss. I wanted to go to Antarctica before and now I want to go even more!

World Penguin Day Today

Meet Monty and Poppy at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. These baby African penguins are not yet on exhibit. You can see the other penguins on the regular penguin cam.

The New England Aquarium in Boston, MA also has some little blue penguin chicks–from New Zealand! You can read more about it here.

Take a moment today to appreciate penguins as most species are threatened by food or habitat loss. Thanks climate change. And ride your bike or walk instead of driving your gas guzzler to give the planet a break.

Marching and Penguins

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Today was the Women’s March. Around the world men, women and children gathered to march for women’s rights. Oh and dogs came too. I found the excitement of being with people who all held out hope for better days energizing. Last year I was in Washington, DC and this year I marched in my hometown Sacramento. Sacramento has the advantage of not having so many people that you cannot move like last year on the Capitol Mall.

As always the signs were creative and sometimes outrageous. We walked to the state Capitol where there was a rally. I had loaded my bike Gidget with flowers to take to the Women’s Empowerment booth. The best part of marching in my hometown was seeing so many people I know: Al, Patricia, Chantay and others.

Today is also Penguin Awareness Day. They don’t usually overlap like this. Along with my Auntie J’s birthday! Now I am going to go on YouTube and look for penguin videos.

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Penguins at the Boston aquarium

Penguins at Central Park Zoo

IMG_2288The Central Park Zoo is small but beautifully landscaped. It provides plenty of places to pause and enjoy sea lions or watch a grizzly bear snoozing. I didn’t realize they had penguins until I saw an article about places to stay cool in NYC in August. One suggestion was the to check out the Antarctic House and see the penguins. I noted that the penguins were fed publicly at 10:30 and 2:30 p.m. I realized when I left Lincoln Center that if I hot-footed it I could just make it there by 2:30.

IMG_2290It was $18.00 for a ticket to get into the zoo for one adult. As a penguin lover it was worth it–although at feeding time it is crowded and as you can see the windows get steamy. It is hard not to be captivated by the birds swimming and jumping back on the rocks. IMG_2297

I spent a bit more time looking at other animals and admiring the flowers and shrubs. I really needed ice cream. I stopped at the cafe where they had the usual sort of packaged and reheated food. The gift shop was a little more original.

This is a great place to visit with children. You can save 10% on tickets by buying on-line.