Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Penguin Pals: Meet Quion II

Now here's a penguin that wears his heart on his sleeve. Actually, his chest.

Meet Quoin!

We have mentioned in previous blogs that the African penguins have spot patterns on their chests that are unique to each penguin, sort of like our finger prints. Being that we just celebrated Valentine’s Day, I would like to introduce you to one of our African penguins who has a very fitting spot pattern.

Note his blue and brown bracelet on his left wing

This is Quoin II he has a blue and brown bracelet on his left wing. He was born at the Aquarium on May, 25, 2010, and his parents are Alfred and Treasure II (formerly profiled in another Valentine's Day post!!).

Quoin as a juvenile

If you remember from previous blog posts juvenile African penguins have a different feather pattern than adults. They won’t get their adult plumage until they are about a year and a half to two years old. So when he molted from his juvenile feathers to his adult feathers we were quite surprised to see that Quoin’s spot pattern resembled a heart shape right on the middle of his chest.

Quoin adult plumage revealed a distinct heart shape!

Quoin is named after an island in Mossel Bay, South Africa, that was once an African penguin breeding island. Quoin is an old English word for a wedge of metal, or wood used elevate muzzle loading canons and describes the physical appearance of the island.  

You can read some of our more “romantic” blog posts about the penguin breeding programs here at the Aquarium. Our penguins are part of a species survival plan for African penguins, which are endangered in the wild. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Insider's scoop: Penguins are territorial

It has been several months since we introduced the penguins back into the penguin exhibit following the completion of the Giant Ocean Tank renovations. Both penguins and staff have fallen back into the normal daily routine.

Rockhopper penguin

After almost a year at their off-site holding facility, many wondered if the penguins would return to their old territories on the islands. Since the penguins had never been out of their exhibit for such a long period of time, we were wondering the same thing.

African penguins

One by one the penguins were returned to the exhibit. It was quite amazing to watch the majority of the penguins return to their old territories like they had never left. Well-established penguin pairs returned to their old territories; these pairs that have been together in the same spots for years. When you think about it this is not surprising since penguins are very territorial by nature and many penguins in the wild return to the same nest site every breeding season after spending the majority of the year out at sea.

Some penguins returned to familiar territory

Not every penguin returned to their previous spots. Most of the new territories were established by our younger penguins who never really established a territory before we left for the renovations. Luckily they managed to find new territories without causing any fights with other penguins.

Other younger birds scoped out a new plot to call home
Here's a quick video of the African and rockhopper penguins soon after returning to the exhibit!

We were very excited to see what the little blue penguins would do when they were returned to the exhibit. If you remember in 2012 we imported 14 little blue penguins from the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. By the time they finished their USDA quarantine in California followed by our standard 30 day quarantine, all the resident Aquarium penguins had already been removed from the penguin exhibit for the start of the Giant Ocean Tank renovation.

The new Taronga penguins joined our resident little blue penguins behind the scenes in a temporary exhibit for the duration of the renovation. We were excited to see how they would react as they were introduced to the penguin exhibit for the first time. Their introduction went very smoothly, it was almost anti-climactic. The Taronga little blues learned our feeding and cleaning routines very quickly and new and old little blues alike very quickly established their favorite hang out spots on the island.

Little blue penguins all comfy on their rock

All in all, the long awaited return of the penguins went off without a hitch and everything is back to normal.  The transition went so smoothly it almost feels like we never left.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How one youngster is helping little blue penguins

Sometimes we meet people who are going to extraordinary lengths to protect our blue planet. Not only do these individuals make changes in their own lives, but they raise awareness about important issues facing our oceans and encourage others to make changes to help the environment. 

A little blue penguin in the Aquarium's penguin colonies

Matthieu De Wolf is a boy from Belgium. He's taken a particular interest in little blue penguins. We learned of his interest during his visit to the Aquarium this summer. In this post, he explains how he helps little blue penguins, and why.

Matthieu visited the Aquarium this summer and was able to meet Aquarium penguin biologist Caitlin Hume
Photo: M. De Wolf

I became passionate about penguins when I was 11. I was looking at stuffed animals and found a penguin. Then I found a $1 penguin at a flea market at my school. I became obsessed with penguins and started collecting them. I found out more about blue penguins and that you can sponsor them.

My visit to the New England Aquarium was really great as I got to speak to a real penguinologist, Caitlin, about penguins.

Enjoying the penguin exhibit at the New England Aquarium | Photo: M. De Wolf

Something everyone should know about penguins is that some species are becoming more and more rare in the wild. People should try and stop this by taking care of the environment. What other kids can do to help penguins is to adopt them via the internet. They can also protect the environment and maybe try and make a campaign to help penguins.

Matthieu is making headlines around the world for his support of little blue penguins

I have been fundraising for a little blue penguin colony in New Zealand and enjoy working with them, they have a great program that protects the colony and their breeding program has been very successful.

Matthieu manning his table at a Christmas craft fair. Proceeds go to support little blue penguins in New Zealand
Photo: M. De Wolf

Inspired by Matthieu's passion for little blue penguins? You can support little blue penguins right here in Boston! Consider sponsoring a little blue, African or rockhopper penguin or another marine animal as part of our Animal Sponsorship program. Sponsoring an animal helps with the daily cost of care—including the best possible medical treatment, food and habitat upkeep. (Pssst...Animal Sponsorships make great holiday gifts!)

You can also live blue™ to help penguins in the wild. Many penguins have been affected by climate change and a decrease in sea ice. But there are ways you can make a difference by reducing your carbon footprint, from changing a lightbulb to buying a fuel efficient car. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Little Blue Breeding: New Birds on the Block

The Aquarium participates in a Species Survival Plan for our penguins. Little blue penguin breeding season is just ending. Catch up on what happened behind the scenes this past summer!

After a successful breeding season we are happy to announce that two little blue penguins were born at the Aquarium behind the scenes are now with the rest of the little blue colony on exhibit.

A little blue penguin chick introduced this previous post

Unlike other penguin species where the juvenile penguins have a different feather pattern than the adults (such as the African and rockhopper penguins), little blue penguins do not have a different juvenile feather stage.

Notice the difference in plumage from this adult African penguin...
... and this juvenile African penguin.

So even though these two new birds are only around 3 months old they look just like penguins that are 5 years old. The only way to spot them is to look for their identification bracelets.

Let me introduce you to our newest additions


This is Thigaraa. She has a purple and pink bracelet on her right wing. She was born in May of 2013. Thigaraa is an Aboriginal word for bird from a tribe from Queensland.


This is Granite. He has an orange and white bracelet on his left wing. He was born in June of 2013. He is named after Granite Island in South Australia, which is a breeding island for little blue penguins.

Unfortunately Granite Island, along with other islands in South Australia, has seen a recent and dramatic decline in its penguin populations over that last few years. While the exact cause in the sudden decrease in the penguin population is unknown, researchers believe some possible causes are introduced predators like foxes and cats, the booming New Zealand fur seal population and diminishing fish populations.

The next time you are visiting the Aquarium stop by and say hello!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Little Blue Penguin Breeding: Wait, these are babies!

The Aquarium participates in a Species Survival Plan for our penguins. Right now is little blue penguin breeding season. Over the coming weeks we'll share behind-the-scenes pictures and details about what it takes to raise penguins chicks on Central Wharf. Catch up on what you missed!

Given their small size we are often asked if the little blue penguins are babies. All of the little blue penguins on exhibit are full grown adults or juveniles. The little blue penguin is the smallest species of penguin and stand at about 10-12 inches tall and weigh 2-3 pounds. In fact, many visitor at the Aquarium ask if the little blues are babies. Nope!

If the adults are that small, can you imagine how small the chicks are? When a little blue chick pips out of its shell it usually weighs between 30–40 grams, which is only about 1–1.5 ounces! That’s about the weight of a Hershey Bar.

This photo was taken shortly after this chick finished hatching and weighed less than 40 grams.

These tiny little chicks grow very fast. In about a month’s time they can weigh as much as their parents. These “big babies” are still covered with down and rely on their parents for food until it fledges. Once fledged, they have their first set of waterproof feathers; at this time they are ready to swim and get food on their own.

Here are some photos of our little blue penguin chicks that were born behind the scenes.

A little blue chick recently pipped from its shell

Getting bigger

This chick is about 2 weeks old; it can still fit under its parents for protection but not for long

It takes a lot of food to grow that fast, this chick is opening up its beak showing that it is hungry and ready for a meal

This chick is about one month old, and as you can see it is the same size as its parents but is still covered in down.

At about 6 weeks old this chick has started to fledge.
Its first set of waterproof feathers has started to replace its down.

Come see the little blue penguins in their exhibit at the Aquarium! Choose a time you wish to visit and buy a ticket online. Print it out at home (no service charge!) and you'll be well on your way to seeing all 80+ penguins on Central Wharf.