Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Breeding: Chicks weigh in

You may have read in a previous blog post that some penguin chicks recently hatched here at the Aquarium. These chicks are being raised by their parents behind the scenes. They are fed by their parents who regurgitate (or throw up) fish to the chicks. Since penguins in the wild transport food to their nests over long distances it is impractical for them to carry fish around in their beaks. Penguins can keep a partially digested fish puree in their stomach for several days before being regurgitated. They have special enzymes in their stomach that inhibit bacterial development even though the fish is at body temperature.

To make sure the chicks are well fed we make sure the parents are well fed by offering them food multiple times a day. (Learn what our penguins eat here, and see video of feeding time in the main exhibit here!) We also will weigh the chicks every other day to monitor their growth.

It's time for a weigh-in!

Penguin chick on the scale

For the weigh-in, we carefully remove the chick from the burrow and its protective parents for just the few minutes it takes for us to place the little guys on the scale. (We use a similar technique when checking the eggs during the incubation period and when they're pipping. Learn more about these stages of chick development here and here.) Then it's right back to mom and dad! Check out this time-lapse video montage of us weighing some of our chicks.

When it is born, an average African penguin chick weighs about 70 to 80 grams (that's less than ¼ of a pound). They will continue to grow until they reach their adult weight which usually is around 2500 to 3000 grams (or 5 to 7 pounds). As you might have noticed in the video, we have to constantly use bigger and bigger containers to weigh the chicks in as they continue to grow!

- Andrea

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Penguin Pals: Treasure II

This is Treasure II. She was born at the Aquarium on June 19, 2002 and has a red and yellow bracelet on her right wing.

Treasure II

As most of you have figured out, we give our penguins specific names that describe a little bit about the species. Most of them are named after important breeding areas. But this penguin’s name reminds us of a major problem facing penguins in the wild – oil spills.

When oil gets in the water it sits on the surface. As penguins and other seabirds (and any other air breathing aquatic animals) surface to breath they swim right through the oil and become covered in it.

An oiled penguin

For penguins this is disastrous. The oil ruins the waterproofing qualities of their feathers. If a penguin stays in the cold ocean water it can become hypothermic, but if it stays on land it could starve. This is a lose - lose situation.

On June 23, 2000, the damaged bulk ore carrier MV Treasure sank, spilling 1,300 tons of bunker oil off the coast of South Africa. The spill occurred between Robben and Dassen Islands, two of the largest breeding islands for the African penguin, in the middle of one of the most successful breeding seasons. Within days thousands of oiled penguins started showing up on the beaches along South Africa and its islands. Treasure II is named after this ship and reminds us of the devastating effects oil has on penguins and the incredible international effort to clean up this oil spill.

If you have been reading the Aquarium's Marine Animal Rescue Blog you may already know that the Aquarium sent two staff members (our head vet Dr. Charles Innis, and Connie Merigo from our Rescue & Rehab Department) to the Gulf to assist in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill clean up. In addition, the Aquarium's president and head of the Board of Trustees visited the Gulf coast to see the damage firsthand and observe ongoing clean-up efforts.

Oily water in the Gulf of Mexico

What most people may not know is that nearly 10 years ago, the New England Aquarium sent staff to South Africa to assist with the Treasure spill and utilize their expertise in animal husbandry to keep the 20,000 oiled penguins alive while they waited to be washed. Here are some photos taken by Heather while she was in South Africa.

This is just one of several massive rooms where the oiled penguins lived while they awaited being cleaned.

Each blue tub is filled with penguins, just like these.

In the days and weeks that they wait to be cleaned, each penguin needed to be hand fed by staff and volunteers.

Each penguin was hand washed using dishwashing soap and rinsed thoroughly to remove all the oil.

- Andrea

Friday, August 27, 2010

Breaking out!

After about 40 days of growing, the African penguin chick is fully developed and ready to hatch. The action of a chick breaking out of its shell is called pipping.

We briefly check on each egg during the process of pipping

As the chick gets ready to hatch, we will check it closely to see for the first signs of a pip. Initially it will look like a tiny crack or raised spot on the shell. The chick continues to make that hole bigger and bigger (the parents will also help the process along) until it is out of the shell completely.

Check out this video of the pipping process. You will see how we remove the egg from under the protective parent to check on the chick's progression as it breaks out of the shell. Listen closely to hear the chick peeping from inside the shell! Once we see that everything is progressing normally, the egg goes right back to the parents.

- Andrea

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The penguin chick has a name!

The penguin naming contest was a huge success — over 1,600 entries! Our penguin biologists hemmed and hawed over the huge selection of clever names and decided on... drum roll please... Pilchard!

Pilchard has long grown out of his fluffy down and now has nice waterproof feathers, perfect for swimming in the main Penguin Exhibit with other grown chicks his age! Keep in mind that we don't know if Pilchard is male or female, as young penguins have no obvious external gender differences. Results of a blood test will reveal the answer to that question in a couple of weeks.

Pilchards are a small schooling fish that are found in the cold nutrient rich waters off the the coast of South Africa and Namibia and comprise the main food source for wild African penguins. Pilchards are in the same family as sardines and herring. You may have read in this previous blog post that we offer similar types of fish to our penguins here at the Aquarium. The penguins at the Aquarium will always have enough to eat as we offer them food twice a day, everyday; but this is not the case for many penguin species in the wild.

Unfortunately African penguins are now endangered. The recent, rapid population decline of this population is partly the result of the loss of these fish from commercial over-fishing as well as shifts in prey populations possibly due to climate change. In short there are fewer fish in the water and the fish that remain are moving farther and farther away from the penguins’ breeding grounds. Learn how you can help minimize the effects of climate change and how your own seafood choices can help penguins and other animal.

You might recognize Pilchard from his (or her) small screen debut! Click here to see Pilchard on Fox 25. He or she has a temporary pink band on here, Pilchard's band has been updated to its permanent pink and black colors.

More than one person submitted "Pilchard," so the prize goes to the first entry. Congratulations to six year old Nicolai Crescenzi and his mother Cynthia of East Hempstead, New Hampshire; they have won a behind the scenes tour of the penguin chick raising area. Thanks to everyone who entered! It was wonderful to see so many dedicated penguin fans. Your names were very well researched, and we hope you will continue to stay in touch with the penguin department by leaving comments right here on the Penguin Blog as the biologists post photos and video of the penguin chicks growing up and entering the exhibit.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Penguin Pals: Pip

This is Pip. He is an African penguin with a pink bracelet on his left wing. He was born here at the Aquarium on June 1, 1997.

Pip standing tall

He gets his name from the term pipping, which is the action of a chick breaking out of its shell. When the chick reaches its hatch date it will use its beak and break through a membrane inside the shell into the air space. See if you can spot the air space in the video on this previous blog about candling!

The chick will then start to break the shell from the inside out. From the outside the pip will look like a tiny raised spot or a crack on the egg and as the chick continues to pip a bigger and bigger hole can be seen. You can sometimes see the chick's beak poking in and out of the shell and hear the chick peeping from the inside. The whole pipping process can take 24 to 48 hours before the chick is free from its shell.

A chick pipping

Pip happens to be the favorite bird of our recent guest blogger, Tim Pratte. The next time you are at the New England Aquarium look for this special bird in the penguin exhibit. And stay tuned to future blogs about pipping!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Free penguin lecture for the public!

It has been a very busy summer and we can't believe the 7th International Penguin Conference (IPC) is less than one week away! The penguin staff are very excited to get a chance to learn from penguin experts from all over the world, and you can, too!

Photo credit: Brian Skerry

The New England Aquarium will be hosting a free public lecture on Wednesday, September 1, from 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. at the Simons IMAX Theater. Attendees will be able to hear presentations from penguin experts Peter Barham and Dee Boersma, watch a slide show from famous polar photographer Jonathan Chester, and see excerpts from the new documentary "Frozen Planet" introduced by Grant Ballard, which is scheduled to be released in 2012. Click here to learn more about the speakers.

Photo credit: Brian Skerry

Space is limited and a RSVP is requested and is as easy as clicking on this link.
Reserve your seat today! Hope to see you there.

Photo credit: Brian Skerry

- Andrea

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Early birds on television!

One of our eleven penguin chicks had a very important solo in the spotlight this morning. Andrea accompanied this youngsters during a live appearance on Fox 25. She answered questions about African penguins and talked about our exciting Penguin Naming Contest. Our penguin just stood there looking very cute. Take a look!

If you're planning to submit a name for the contest, you have until this Sunday, 8/22. Remember, we're looking for educational and conservation-themed names. Just click through to this submission form to throw your entry into the hat. Our biologists will be choosing one name and a winner will get a behind-the-scenes tour of the Aquarium!

Guest blogger: Tim Pratte

Our penguins have a lot of fans, but few as fervent as 13-year-old Tim Pratte! Tim and his family are members of the Aquarium, and visit about once a month. He can name every bird in the exhibit. Tim also donates his own birthday and holiday money to the penguins. He's such a special supporter, we invited Tim to post. Here's Tim:

My name is Tim Pratte and I live in Bedford, NH. I love penguins, and they inspired me to build the model of the New England Aquarium. I made this model in about a year. It is a very nice model, not just because it looks cool, but because I made it mostly out of recyclables. For example: boxes, paper, and plastic. I also used a lot of TAPE!!

Over the past year, when I was building this model, I became more and more interested in penguins. I was so interested I even memorized all of their names by their bracelet colors. Example: Pip [my favorite penguin] has his bracelet on the left because he is a male. His bracelet color is pink, so I know him as pink left. I am still studying the penguins, and someday I hope I can work at the New England Aquarium.

This is a picture of the African penguins in my model. The rocks are real, and there are plastic cups supporting them. (Tim's model is so true to life, he even has the "floating" rocks down! Click here to see video of what these rocks look like underwater in the real exhibit!)

This picture the giant ocean tank in my model aquarium. All the coral is from Florida.

- Tim

Thanks, Tim! So are you curious about Tim's favorite penguin, Pip? Stay tuned, we'll be sharing some more information about him very soon!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Big Introduction

As you might have read in this earlier post, Heather and I drove 7 female rockhopper penguins from SeaWorld Orlando to the Aquarium in November of 2009 to increase the number of females in our colony.

After a two day drive the rockhoppers were settled in behind the scenes for a 30 day quarantine (a standard procedure to ensure all new animals are healthy before they meet the rest of the colony) before they went on exhibit.

The rockhoppers behind the scenes waiting for their big introduction

The day of the big exhibit introduction was quite an event with plenty of media folks to document the happenings. Everyone around the Aquarium wanted to see how our NEA rockhoppers would react to the new SeaWorld additions. The carriers were opened and the new rockhoppers ran out onto the island.

Out they go!

There was a lot of vocalizing and commotion and eventually everyone settled down.

The island looks great with all the new rockhoppers. I am happy to say that the new females have settled in nicely with our existing rockhoppers. Although there is no romance yet we are hopeful that the addition of the females from SeaWorld will lead to breeding in years to come.

That's a lot of rockhoppers!

Click here and here to see a few articles written by the media present at the introduction.

- Andrea

Friday, August 13, 2010

Name that penguin!

Our last post introduced some of our newest arrivals here at the New England Aquarium – a throng of pudgy African penguin chicks. We are really excited about all these healthy chicks, and we want to share our excitement with the rest of you. Help us choose a name for one of our young penguins before it is introduced into the main exhibit!

Here's the deal: All of our penguins have education or conservation related names, so the name you enter needs to teach a bit about African penguins. We’ve already posted some examples of this on the blog with Robben, Sea-Cat, Roast Beef and Plum Pudding. There are more tips on how to choose a conservation-themed name on the contest page. Once you come up with a name that you think will impress us, use this form to submit it. Aquarium biologists will choose their favorite name and the winner will be awarded a behind-the-scenes tour of the Aquarium’s penguin exhibit! Put your thinking cap on, the contest runs from Friday, August 13, through Sunday, August 22.

Good luck!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Breeding: Everybody Loves Chicks

As you have read in past posts here and here, we are in the middle of our African penguin breeding season. We are happy to report that the season is going well and we have many chicks behind the scenes.

Just like proud parents (not to be confused with our Proud Parents Animal Sponsorship program, where people like you can sponsor a penguin!) we wanted to share some photos of the chicks in various stages of growth.

In this photo you can barely see a newly hatched chick next to the second egg that has yet to hatch. Both are underneath a protective parent.

This chick is just a few days old and can easily fit in the palms of our hands. We are going to weigh it quickly before returning it to the parents.

Most of the time, the chicks hang out with mom and dad!

Here, Paul is holding a chick that is about one week old before it is weighed.

This chick is about 15 days old and is getting its daily weigh-in.

At about one month old, this chick is still covered in fluffy down but is growing rapidly.

The parents of these 4 penguins were returned to the exhibit so we could start getting the chicks used to eating from people. We are preparing them to join the rest of the colony on exhibit.

Here are some of our oldest chicks. At over 60 days old, they are full grown and have their first set of waterproof feathers and are almost ready to go on exhibit.

Many of you have met some of these chicks while they were still in the egg in a previous post we did on candling. That's where we look inside the egg to check on the growing chick. To learn even more about how these baby penguins go from egg to exhibit, stay tuned to the blog as we describe each step in detail.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Breeding: Candleing

Once the eggs are laid the African penguins will incubate them for about 40 days. During those 40 days it is a mystery as to what is going on inside the egg. "Is the egg fertile?", "Is the chick developing inside?" If only we had x-ray vision.

An African penguin egg

Well, we don't have x-ray vision but we can use a technique called candling to help us get a glimpse inside the egg. Shining a concentrated beam of light through the egg to observe embryo development is called candling.

The candler

In a dark room, we hold the egg to the light of the candler to observe the contents of the egg. We will wait until the eggs are least 10 days old before we candle and check for development. The embryo appears as a dark spot surrounded by a faint outline of blood vessels that becomes larger as incubation progresses. Eventually only a dark mass and the air cell are seen before the hatch date.

Watch this video to see the candling process.

The first clip is of an egg that is about 10 days old. It is a fertile egg because we could see a tiny embryo (it looks like a kidney bean shaped dark mass) and blood vessels. Next you can see a fertile egg that is a little older, the embryo has grown (it takes almost half the space inside the shell). Sometimes at this stage you can actually see the developing chick moving inside the shell. The third clip is off an egg that is approaching its hatch date. As you can see the chick inside is so big that all you can see is a dark mass. The only space available is an air space that the chick will break through as it starts to hatch. The last clip is of an infertile egg. All that is visible is a yolk. If you held a chicken egg from your kitchen up to a light this is what it would look like as well.

Even with candling we still do not know 100% what is going on inside the egg so it is still exciting to wait and see how everything turns out. Stay tuned!

- Andrea

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

International Penguin Conference

It’s sad to say but the 2010 summer is flying by and it will be September before you know it. While most people (kids, in particular) dread the end of the summer, the penguin staff at the New England Aquarium is very excited. From August 30 through September 3, the New England Aquarium will be hosting the 7th International Penguin Conference (IPC).

The IPC has been held every 3 to 4 years starting back in 1988. It is a gathering of penguin researchers from almost every continent to discuss a myriad of topics from foraging and breeding behaviors to threats penguins are facing in the wild. In past years the conference has been held in places like Australia and South America. This year is the first time the conference will be held in North America!

Having the IPC in our own backyard of Boston is a wonderful opportunity for us to learn new things about penguins in the wild, which can be useful in our approach to caring for the penguins at the New England Aquarium. It is also a great opportunity for us to meet people from all over the world who are as passionate as we are about penguins. You can participate in the conference as well by attending the free public event on Wednesday September 1, 2010, at the Aquarium’s IMAX Theatre featuring lectures, pictures and films from some well known penguin biologists. Stay tuned for more information on the public event and about the IPC. You might be interested in their website, too!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

What's Happening: Good Eats

Visit the penguins! Buy your tickets online—we're waiving online ticketing surcharges right now.

If you saw the movie we posted recently about penguin feedings, you might be interested to know just what these birds are eating. Well, the penguins at the Aquarium are fed by hand twice a day. They eat a variety of fish like...




and sardines.

As you can tell, the fish comes to the Aquarium frozen.

We have to thaw each block of fish the night before so it's ready in time to feed our hungry birds at 9 a.m. in the morning and again at 2:30 p.m. every afternoon. Can you guess what fish is their favorite?

- Andrea

Friday, August 6, 2010

Penguin Pals: Roast Beef and Plum Pudding

Roast Beef and Plum Pudding sound more like dishes served at a restaurant rather than the names of two African penguins. After reading some of our previous posts, you probably figured out that we give our penguins specific names that tell you a little bit about each species. So you may be wondering why we named these penguins after tasty dishes.

Roast Beef

Plum Pudding

Well Roast Beef and Plum Pudding are named after two islands off the coast of Namibia. It is said that English sealers probably gave these islands their names because to the hungry and homesick sailors, these islands on the horizon looked like the favorite holiday meal of roast beef and plumpudding.

View Larger Map

Roast beef and plumpudding, holiday favorites for hungry sailors

Roast Beef hatched on August 4, 1998, and has a gray bracelet on his left wing. Plum Pudding hatched three days later on August 7 and has a purple and yellow bracelet, also on his left wing. Their parents are Mosselbaai and Jutten.

Roast Beef is getting pretty famous this summer. His mug is splashed across signs throughout Boston with our summer advertising campaign. You also may have seen Roast Beef mentioned on the website as part of our Penguin Pursuit contest. Roast Beef has been to Fanueil Hall, the Children’s Museum and Fenway Park this summer giving visitors a chance to see a penguin close up, and ask questions about penguins. He stays cool in his own private air conditioned cart. He is one of the few birds that we will take out of the exhibit on educational outreaches. Roast Beef is a natural under the spotlight; he doesn’t get agitated too easily and always seems to enjoy the attention.

Roast Beef visiting school children in Boston

Kids enjoying a little face time with Roast Beef outside Fenway Park

Check our News and Updates page for more information about the Penguin Pursuit contest. Roast Beef is making a few more appearances this summer, see if you can figure out where to find him! We'll see you there.

- Andrea