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.

Quirky & Fun Irish Stuff

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I know, I know. It implies they don’t charge fees for withdrawing cash, although your bank will charge you. Still I posit that this is misleading. I didn’t get any extra cash that wasn’t fully represented on my bank statement!
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Before we left for Ireland my Auntie J shared an article about the popularity of Krispy Kreme donuts in Dublin. I couldn’t quite figure it out. The drive-thru Krispy Kreme was causing such a disturbance to the neighborhood that they shut down for a time. Then when I was at the Christmas Fair at Belfast City Hall and I saw these treats. OMG! So much sugar.
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Retail is suffering in California and stores are not making as much of an effort with Christmas displays. So it was delightful to see these fun window displays in Dublin. Plus it is Harry Potter!
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It is a penguin! Naturally this little figurine caught my eye at the Guinness Storehouse.
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I have so many questions. I just missed it, damn. Are they telling stories with yarn? Or are the stories about yarn? 

 

 

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!

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.

Excellent Speed Walk through New England Aquarium

I recommend you spend much more time than I did at the New England Aquarium

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The New England Aquarium is located on the wharf, not far from City Hall and Fannuil Hall

in Boston. I was walking to get knitting supplies at Newbury Yarn and found myself just 11 minutes from the aquarium. They close at 5:30 but I’d promised to be at an event in the Back Bay by 6:00 p.m. It might seem silly to some to pay $27.95 for about an hour of walking around. But I saw they had rockhopper penguins! And this is the home of the Pacific Octopus that Sy Montgomery befriended in her book Soul of An Octopus!

I was not disappointed. They have three types of penguins living separately on the first IMG_2376floor:  African penguins, Rockhopper penguins, and Little Blue Penguins. It was fascinating to see the Little Blue penguins molting. I also saw a woman with my dream volunteer job: cleaning penguin poo off the rocks in their enclosure.

Call me crazy but it would be a kind of zen thing to do and allow me to get to know them better as individuals.

IMG_2390The aquarium is built on multiple levels all spiraling around the deep sea aquarium tank in the middle. It was crowded the day I was there. I finally had to ask someone working at the tidal pool where the octopus resides. All the way near the last possible tanks in the Vancouver bay exhibit. This octopus had camouflaged in all white with coarse bumps and then slide into the far left corner. I overheard little boy who had clearly been searching for him, exclaim his frustration at not seeing him at the other side of the tank. I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed out the octopus to him. He was probably 5 years old and he began to share octopus facts.

IMG_2392His dad confirmed how smart they are. I showed him a circle about the size of a quarter with my hand and said, “Can you believe that big fellow could squeeze through a hole that size?” His eyes got big. It was lovely to stand gazing at the octopus with someone as enthusiastic as I am.

I found a book for my grandson called Octopuses One to Ten by Ellen Jackson in the gift shop. “Octopuses in disguise have four ways to fool your eyes.”  They can squirt a cloud of ink, or change their skin color or texture to blend in, or detach an arm if a predator grabs it, or disappear into his or her den until danger passes. This is why they have survived in our world so long. (Plus mankind is still not able to navigate underwater easily.)

The gift shop was not well stocked when I was there. However, I appreciated the more limited space devoted to commerce. Monterey Bay Aquarium could learn from them, they seem to favor the Disneyland approach. They also have dozens of activities to participate in for adults and children. For slightly more admission you can also watch films at the iMax theater next door.

The New England Aquarium is an easy walk from the T station at Government Center. I took the green line to the Back Bay and was at Tevis’ home within 30 minutes for just $2.75.

 

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.