Celebrating World Penguin Day!

20170330_100529The African penguins are on the second floor of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, past the top of the Kelp Forest and adjacent to the Splash Zone. The area was empty of people when I first arrived. I sat on the carpeted bench and watched as child after child discovered the exhibit. “Penguins!” they’d exclaim with the face lighting up. Many sea creatures scare people because they are potentially lethal–jellyfish and sharks–but everyone appears to find the penguins charming and funny.

The penguins at the Aquarium are fed daily at 10:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. There is no special ticket required to watch the keepers feed them fish and answer questions from the audience. There are also interactive displays to expand your knowledge of penguins. African penguins are among the most threatened species because of their dwindling food supply and habitat, but the Aquarium stays upbeat.

The Aquarium is part of AZA Species Survival Plan, a zoological conservation program that is keeping endangered animals alive and maintaining their genetic diversity through collaboration and sharing of, in this case, the birds around the U.S. When I compare the rich, stimulation that African penguins have in the wild with the sterile, almost two-dimensional exhibit space, I have to remind myself how they can be ambassadors that inspire people to care about what is happening to these wonderful birds in Namibia and South Africa.

Need a penguin fix and can’t get to Monterey? Watch the live Penguin Cam!

Over in South Africa, an organization called SANCCOB is leading the way in studying, rescuing, and rehabilitating wild African penguins. Through their Chick Bolstering Project, SANCCOB biologists monitor African penguins in the wild and bring abandoned, injured or starving chicks in for care. Together with colony managers, they also rescue and hand-rear eggs that have either been abandoned by their parents or when the adult penguins were found nesting in areas outside of the protected colony area. Last year Monterey Bay Aquarium Aviculturist Monika Rohrer journeyed to South Africa to volunteer with SANCCOB.  (from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website)

On quiet days when there are few visitors the penguins get to go for a stroll outside their enclosure. Watch the penguin parade.

#MarchforScience on Earth Day 2017

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My Mom and I marched for science in Sacramento on Saturday. We were happy to  support science with several thousand fellow truthseekers. Mom is 81 and not as ambulatory as she once was. In my youth I had to learn to keep up with her long stride. Now we triangulated the march route to figure out the best place to park to save steps. We’d fortified ourselves with brunch at Easy on I and made sure to use the bathroom before we left!

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My favorite sign of the day: Edward Tufte would approve!

There were clever signs, some of which we weren’t nerdy enough to figure out on our own (thanks Google!). I realize some people are critical of marches as just theater and making no real difference. Except that it really boosts morale of those who participate. We are most definitely not alone in valuing science.

The next day was Earth Sunday at St. John’s Lutheran Church. I participated in a forum where we discussed our vocation and the role of science and faith. My thoughts are here.

Every day is universe day whether we recognize it or not. We can pursue our lives and concerns without acknowledging the much larger worlds around us, but it keeps swirling on according to the dynamics that are as immutable as they are mysterious. We’ve only just begun to understand it and learning about our world is the greatest adventure.

 

Don’t Miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium

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The mission is to inspire conservation of the ocean.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a gem of an aquarium. It is a truly excellent place to visit if you have children, but even has a lot to offer adults. In addition to the delightful permanent exhibits with the Kelp Forest (with sharks), Sea Otters, Jellyfish and Penguins, the Aquarium hosts special exhibits.  Thanks to the animated film Finding Dory and the Octopus hero Hank, octopi have been rehabilitated in the public consciousness. I’ve always admired the intelligence and ingenuity of octopi so I enthusiastically entered “Tentacles.” It was worth it just to see the Giant Pacific Octopus. Wow.

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Nearby is an excellent exhibit on plastics in our oceans and what we can do to reduce this insidious pollution. I particularly enjoyed various artists’ use of plastic to make sea-inspired collages. You can read more about this issue on the Aquarium’s website.

You can eat at the Aquarium’s cafe, or enjoy your picnic lunch outside on one of the observation decks. The brilliance of rehabilitating an old sardine cannery is more obvious when you stand on a deck extending over the Monterey Bay. I’d actually like to come back on a bad weather day!

I do not like to eat a lot of fish, but I know fish is a healthy choice. I have used my concern over commercial over-fishing to avoid ordering fish at restaurants. Now I can download the Aquarium’s Seawatch App on my phone to check for safe options to enjoy fish guilt-free. Check it out.

I used my AAA member discount to buy my ticket through the AAA website, even so, it is $50 to visit. This may not make you blink, but it does make me pause. I want to be able to spend 2.5 hours or more at that price. I had not been in years–the penguin exhibit had not been added so it was probably pre-1998–and I wasn’t sure I’d visit more than once a year.  Once I experienced the variety of exhibits and spent time on the deck watching the sea, I realized I want to make it more of a habit and I want to share it with my grandson. So I went to the membership desk and converted my ticket to a membership. Watch this space for reviews of the special tours and member events.

“Penguin Professor” Must Read on Penguin Awareness Day

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When I was in Auckland in November, my friend Barbara and I dashed down to High Street to the incomparable Unity bookstore. I really didn’t have room in my luggage for more books–but when has that stopped me from browsing? I purchased a couple of books including a pocket-sized one called F*ck*ing Apostrophes for a friend. Then Barbara spied the Penguin Professor and knowing my interest pointed it out. Without even reading a paragraph to see if it was dull as toast or not, I purchased it and hauled it home.

I am thrilled to say it is a wonderful book. I learned new things about penguins and Antarctica. Each chapter begins with a brief Adelie penguin snapshot–from a penguins point of view. Then one of Lloyd Spencer Davis’ stories about his accidental penguin research career and then a profile of a colleague or mentor who deserves to share the title of “Penguin Professor.” Most of his adventures are set in Antarctica, so if that locale fascinates, you will find this book hugely satisfying even if you are not crazy for penguins.

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Wait! This post is to celebrate Penguin Awareness Day. Let me share some of the gems from his book. His early research in 1977 and early 80s helped to dispel the idea–at least within the science community–that penguins mate for life. They do not. Although he gives a good explanation of how this misinformation took hold in the popular imagination. Furthermore, the male Adelie penguins are not the initiators in the game of love: “Ultimately it is the females, however,that decide whom to mate with and whether a male can mount them. The fights observed within Adelie penguin colonies at that time of year had traditionally been seen-in the blokey way of science up to the 1960s and the women’s liberation movement–as males fighting with each other for access to females, as if the females were somehow the spoils of war. Our observations showed, to the contrary, that the fights were often female against female.” (p 116)

Spencer Davis is a good raconteur and the chapters fly by. He pays tribute to Bernard Stonehouse as his role model in popularizing science. Storytelling is a skill that seems to come naturally but actually takes practice and Spencer Davis has practiced. He also  introduced me to the Antarctic “classic” The Worst Journey in the World.

I highly recommend Professor Penguin. He has also authored an award-winning children’s book to raise awareness about penguins: The Plight of the Penguin.

Lloyd Spencer Davis: Professor Penguin (Random House New Zealand, 2014. 185 pages paperback, $__NZ) ISBN: 978-1-77553-725-0. This delightful book chronicles Professor Lloyd Spencer Davis’ adventures studying Adelie penguins in Antarctica. His storytelling abilities shine through combined memoir, light scientific information, and tribute to his penguin-expert colleagues. Available in USA as Kindle only for $16.99.

He has also authored a children’s book to raise awareness about climate change and how it is impacting penguins: The Plight of the Penguin.

Reading on the Go

Kafka’s statement, “A good book should be an axe for the frozen sea within us,” is actually something I read in David Whyte’s book The Heart Aroused whilst traveling.

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gratuitous photo of grandson reading! 

Many people travel to break open the confines of their perspective and cages of habit that can inhibit creativity. When people ask me to name times of my life when I felt most truly alive, I invariably think of times when I am abroad. So combine reading and travel and you have something powerful indeed.

First, there is reading to prepare for a trip. Before I went to Venice, Italy this year I read John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels. If I had not read this book I might not have prioritized Peggy Guggenheim’s exquisite museum. It also helped me gauge my expectations and I found myself liking Venice more for seeing it less romantically.

Second, there is reading while you are on the trip to better understand the people and culture. I am not talking about guidebooks, although they can be helpful. If you are in New Zealand, than any book by Barry Crump (whose short story inspired the wonderful movie The Hunt for the Wilderpeople) will help you understand any number of bastards* you will meet. To find those books you only need pop into an independent bookstore in the country you are visiting. My favorite in Auckland is the incomparable Unity bookstore. Or if you are going to a predominantly non-English speaking country, check out Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust To Go and take a few books with you.

Then there is reading to imagine that you are traveling when, in fact, you are not or cannot. This is the most important reading of all. In one of my favorite movies about CS Lewis, Shadowlands, Anthony Hopkins as Lewis tells a young student that we read so that know we are not alone. Yes, and we read so we don’t feel stuck. I am not brave enough to travel to the Middle East to visit the Christian holy sites, so I am reading James Martin, SJ’s Jesus, a Pilgrimage.

Finally, and perhaps best of all, we read to laugh. We laugh at cultural misunderstandings, travel mishaps, and more. The master of the travel book that will make you laugh is Bill Bryson. I laughed through The Road to Little Dribbling as I have through his other books.(The movie of A Walk in the Woods was wry and a good excuse to watch Robert Redford. Imagine being an author and having Robert Redford play you in a movie!)

What will you be reading in 2017?

*you will find “bastard” is not a shocking swear word in New Zealand, only mildly so.

Swatch: Cycling to Skeinz

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You can order yarn and penguins in sweaters on-line.

I have been intrigued with the wool shop Skeinz in Napier since 2011. When I was living in St Heliers and the Rena shipwreck happened the shop put a call out for penguin sweaters to help with the recovery. They were completely swamped by the response and the veterinarians only needed a few (their use is actually no longer in vogue). So Skeinz was clever and bought some stuffed little blue penguins and yellow-eyed penguins and sold the sweaters to raise money for penguin recovery and conservation.

The shop is in an industrial part of town because it is co-located with their wool mill and is essentially a factory outlet. Too far to walk and impractical to take a taxi so I rented a 3 speed cruiser and headed to the beach bike path. It was counter-intuitive to go via the Port, but the bike rental guy suggested that there would be less traffic and more scenic.

20161102_150910All good until I got to the transition from the Quays to the light industrial part of Napier called Onekawa. Suddenly I was navigating through roundabouts with logging trucks! I found a new gear fueled by terror! I got lost a couple of times and finally put away my paper map for Ms. Google. My 20 minute bike ride took twice as long, but it was worth it.

I had packed 2 patterns for a sweater and blanket for a friend’s baby due in December. (I learned the hard way to not depend on being able to find a pattern in a knitting language you can read. And then how much yarn to buy?) Karen helped me find the NZ equivalents of the right weight yarn. I really enjoyed looking at and feeling all the beautiful different wool yarns. Karen figured out how to ring it up so I didn’t have to pay GST and Skeinz ships overseas for free for orders over $100 NZ. I appreciated her assistance especially as there was a steady stream of customers.

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Karen asking the office how she can save me the GST: the key is she has to ship it directly to my home in Sacramento.

I decided to cycle back to the City Centre in the most direct route. It was another blood pumping pedaling experience. When I stepped off my bike I felt very satisfied with my yarn haul and as if I’d wrestled ewe to ground, sheared and spun wool all while being chased by wolf! I went back to my hotel, showered and treated myself to a delicious dinner at Bistronomy.

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$20 NZ for 2 hours with a grace period. Includes helmet and lock.

Penguin Parade at Aquarium

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The National Aquarium of New Zealand is not very large and only takes about an hour to see the displays, yet it includes a charming Penguin Cove where over a dozen injured little blue penguins live out their days in ease and repose. I watched Dora, the hand-raised penguin who really likes people and swims and chatters at the front of the pool, while another penguin sunned herself on the deck, and a third penguin swam for the joy of swimming. You can view through a window underwater and from above.

When the keepers came out at 1:30 to feed the penguins, almost all of the penguins came out to grab a fish or two. The penguins feed three times a day in view of the public (9:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. daily). One keeper shares information about the penguins while the other feeds them by hand. They warn about the threats to penguins like the pollution and fishing line that caught Gonzo and removed his fin and lower beak. The rescued penguins live longer at the aquarium than they would in the wild; one elderly penguin is 21 years compared to 12 years average in the wild. The keeper said she’ll be served her lunch “at home” likes Meals on Wheels.

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The towns of Napier and Hastings were almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1931. Napier was rebuilt in the Art Deco style and continues to celebrate this architectural heritage in festivals and tours. Many cruise ships stop here for a day and one convenient penguin outing is to the Marine Parade and National Aquarium of New Zealand. For over a kilometer along the shoreline there are gardens and walkways that lead from the Hawkes Bay Museum to the Aquarium.

Entry to the National Aquarium is $20NZ for one adult. A family of four can visit for $54NZ. There is special pricing for students and seniors. The aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The café and gift shop are currently closed for remodeling.

It is a 20-minute walk from the tourist information centre to the aquarium. The paths are flat and easy to navigate if you are in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller. Just across the street from the I-Centre is a bike rental place. For $20NZ you can rent a cruiser with a helmet and lock for 2 hours. Most of Napier is completely flat so you can pedal to the aquarium, see the penguins and continue exploring.