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.

Celebrating Penguin Awareness Day

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The Penguin Experience begins at the visitor’s centre.

Today (and by this I mean the full 24 hour period known as January 20 in Australia and the United States) is Penguin Awareness Day. The timing of my trip was planned to coincide with the Tour Down Under in Adelaide. My stop in Melbourne was motivated in large part by the Penguin Parade experience on Phillip Island.

I was fortunate that my friend Sandy had some time off from work and enthusiastically purchased tickets ($24 AU for just penguins; $47.20 AU per adult for package that includes the Koala Experience and other activities on the island). Her sister Colleen and husband Pete own the San Remo Hotel and Bar, referred to as the pub. Her gracious sister provided us dinner at the pub and let us sleep over at her house. This was hugely helpful because the penguins do not waddle home until dusk and in summer (January) this is around 9:15 p.m.  A delicious dinner in San Remo is also convenient if you are traveling on your own.

The Penguin Parade was very well organized and staffed. As a result, while we could not see the penguins up close when they landed on the beach, we could see them very up close as they waddled up the hill to their nests. We witnessed more than one penguin being mobbed by his/her young with them competing to receive regurgitated fish. Everything was designed to minimize disturbance to the Little Blue Penguins while still providing a terrific experience to about 500 people.  They call them Fairy Penguins or Little Penguins in Australia, but they are the same delightful type of penguin I have observed in New Zealand.

If you are in Melbourne and you need someone to organize transportation and tickets, then I highly recommend Melbourne Coastal Tours. Especially if you cannot stay locally to Phillip Island–best to let someone else drive you back to the city at night.

There are no pictures allowed at the Penguin Parade because the flash would scare the penguins. So instead, check out this “burrow camera” from the Phillip Island Nature Parks. http://www.penguins.org.au/attractions/penguin-parade/penguin-burrow-camera/