Thursday, November 25, 2010

What's Happening-It's another penguin day on "Turkey Day"

It is Thanksgiving and while most people are thinking about turkey, a dedicated group of staff and volunteers are thinking about another type of bird...Penguins!! Even though the Aquarium is closed to the public we still came in to feed the penguins and clean the exhibit.

When you think of Thanksgiving a lot of things come to mind; "giving thanks", pilgrims, football, the Macy Parade and of course food! Here at the Aquarium we are definitely thinking a lot about food.

Food for the penguins, and snacks for the volunteers

Derek is excited to prep the fish for the penguins on Thanksgiving

Amanda feeding Sea-Cat

On Thanksgiving we usually do an abbreviated day so once all the penguins are feed and are sleeping off their dinner, everyone can be out in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Just hope we didn't fill up on all our snacks.

Sleepy penguins

Refueling on snacks before we head back in for the second feed.

From all of the penguins and the penguin staff "Happy Thanksgiving"


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Penguin Pals: Benguela III and Agulhas III

The next two penguins I would like to introduce to you are Benguela III and Agulhas III.

First up: Benguela. He has a pink and yellow bracelet on his left wing and he was born here at the Aquarium on May 23, 2001. He is currently paired with a penguin named Bird (yellow and pink bracelet on the right wing). Together they have been successful in raising four penguin chicks here at the Aquarium: Sinclair II, Pikkewynne, Dyer III and Pilchard.

Benguela III

Bird and Benguela

Now, Agulhas was born on June 7, 2010, and his parents are Seneca and Isis. He has an orange and grey bracelet on his left wing and still has his juvenile feathers (solid grey feathers on his head).

Agulhas III

I wanted to introduce these two penguins together because they are both named after ocean currents that flow around the southern coasts of Africa. The cold Benguela current flows north and northwest in the South Atlantic Ocean along the west coast of South Africa, while the warm, south flowing Agulhas current flows from the South West Indian Ocean along the east coast of South Africa. Both currents supply nutrient rich water an area of high productivity, which supplies food like pilchards for the African penguins that breed along the west coast of South Africa and Namibia and the southeast coast of South Africa.

Map of major ocean currents found on RED arrows indicate warm currents, while cold currents are displayed in BLUE.

Recently the paths of these currents have shifted farther away from shore resulting in the penguins' food source moving farther away from their breeding areas. As a result parent penguins may not be able to return from foraging with enough food to sustain themselves and their chicks waiting to fed in the nest. Not only do these currents support the African penguin population but they are important to many other marine organisms, from sharks and seals to the inhabitants of coral reefs along the coast of Mozambique. This shift in the currents will have a major effect on many marine ecosystems and could be attributed to global climate change. To learn about things you can do at home to help stop global climate change, check out the live blue™ Initiative or peruse these links.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

FAQ: How many people does it take?

Over the past few months we have talked a lot about the penguins at the New England Aquarium (that is, African, rockhopper and little blue penguins), but you can't forget the group of staff and volunteers that take care of all the penguins each day. So, how many people does it take to take care of the penguin exhibit?

Our food prep room crowded with volunteers and staff getting the penguins' food ready for the first feeding of the day.

It takes a whole team of staff, interns and volunteers to care for our penguins and their exhibit every single day of the week. From twice-daily feedings to scrubbing the rock islands to vacuuming the floors, there's a lot to do! So on any given day, you'll find at least two staff members plus up to another six volunteers wading in the penguin exhibit.

Scrubbing and rinsing the rock islands

Feeding the penguins, bon appetit! Note the clipboard in the foreground used to keep notes on how much fish each bird eats.

To be a penguin volunteer you must be at least 18 years old and able to come in once a week for at least six months, this is to give you enough time to learn all the birds' names (our readers have met a lot of our penguin pals already!) and pick up the skills needed to take care of them. Our volunteers work side by side with the staff for all the daily chores from food preparations and doing laundry to cleaning the exhibit and feeding the penguins.

Vacuuming the penguin exhibit

Cleaning the underside of one of the rock islands

Stay tuned to meet penguin staff members Heather, Paul, Caitlin and Andrea.

To learn more about how to become a volunteer, click here. And very soon you can learn what it is like to volunteer in the penguin exhibit, straight from one of our very own volunteers.

We could not be able to take care of the 85-plus penguins if it wasn't for the great group of people who come in day after day, week after week to help us take care of the penguins.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Update From The Field: Goblins, Tubenoses and Chicks

New England Aquarium Senior Penguin Biologist Caitlin Hume is working with Project Puffin on Matinicus Rock, a tiny island 20 miles off the coast of Maine. The project teams conduct puffin population censuses, feeding studies and band chicks in order to recognize them when they return to the island as adults.

During my time on Matinicus Rock I was lucky to be on the island during one of the three Leach's storm petrel burrow checks of the season. The storm petrels had already become a fast favorite of mine due to the purring and goblin like cackling noises that they make as they leave their burrows for the night.

You won't see much in this video, it was taken in the dark of the night after all. But listen carefully!

Storm petrels are the smallest of all the seabirds, only about 8 inches long from bill to tail. They are nocturnal during the summer breeding months, only leaving their burrows at night to hunt for fish.

Adult Leach's storm petrel

They dig burrows deep underground where they lay a single egg, and the Project Puffin researchers go into those burrows three times a season to check on the contents. Earlier in the season island supervisors, Nathan and Caroline, had marked burrows with numbered popsicle sticks in a plot about 30 feet by 15 feet on the west side of the island.

Getting to the burrows is yet another challenge of the island. Hundreds of storm petrel burrows are crowded into the few areas of sod on the island, so just getting to a burrow you are trying to check involves stepping very lightly and distributing your weight to avoid collapsing any of the number of burrows in the ground below. Once you have sufficiently straddled all the neighboring burrows and located the burrow you are going to check, you stick your hand into the narrow, tunnel like burrow and contort your body to follow the curves in the tunnel until your whole arm is underground all the way up to your shoulder!

Checking a storm petrel burrow
Photo credit: David Vonk/Caroline Poli

You know you've reached the main chamber when you feel the small twigs and grasses used for nesting material. If there is an adult in the chamber you will feel their soft feathers or a little nip of disapproval, and if you are really lucky you will find one of the most ridiculously cute chicks in all of the bird world!

Leach's storm petrel chick

After two days work, we had checked over a hundred storm petrel burrows. Unbanded adults and chicks big enough to wear a band were banded so that they can be recognized when they return to the islands in the years to come. Equal parts uncomfortable and exhilarating, storm petrel grubbing was definitely one of the overall highlights of my stay on the island!

More updates from Matinicus Rock ahead, with puffins - I promise!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Breeding Season Wrap Up

Our behind-the-scenes breeding rooms which were once filled with our African penguin breeding pairs and their chicks are now empty. As the last two penguin chicks join the rest of the colony on exhibit we realize that we have completed the most successful breeding season on record for the New England Aquarium—eight breeding pairs successfully raised 11 chicks!

Our newest additions are:
Quoin II with a blue and brown bracelet on his left wing
Unombombiya with a red bracelet on his left wing
Agulhas III with an orange and grey bracelet on his left wing
Algoa with a pink and with bracelet on her right wing
Dyer III with a yellow and green bracelet on her right wing
Pilchard with a pink and black bracelet on her right wing (Remember Pilchard? She sports the winning name from our Penguin Naming Contest!)
Hout with a blue and pink bracelet on her right wing
Geyser II with a red and black bracelet on his left wing
Vondeling with a pink and brown bracelet on his left wing
De Hoop with a green and grey bracelet on her right wing and
Table Mountain II with a brown and white bracelet on his left wing

(Stay tuned to future blogs to see why we picked each bird’s name!)

The months of hard work were definitely worth it and the penguin staff would like to thank all of our co-ops, seasonal part time staff and volunteers. We could not have done this without all of them.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about our African penguin breeding process over the past few months as much as I enjoyed sharing it with all of our blog readers.

The next time you are at the Aquarium definitely watch all of our new juvenile penguins as they find their place in our penguin colony.


Get caught up on the breeding process with these previous posts:
Breeding: Playing Match Maker (discover how penguin biologists ensure healthy breeding pairs)
Breeding: A Romantic Getaway (the penguin parents pair off)
Breeding: Candling (learn how staff monitors the chicks growing inside the eggs)
Breeding: Breaking Out! (all about the chicks hatching)
Breeding: Chicks Weighing In (see what a daily check-up is like for the chicks)
Breeding: Tubby Time (watch a penguin chick practice swimming for the first time)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Breeding: They Grow Up So Fast

It seems that in a blink of an eye the penguin chicks go from fitting in the palm of our hands to being full grown and ready to join the rest of the colony on exhibit (this process actually takes 2 to 3 months, but I guess time flies when you are having fun). Before the chicks go on exhibit we return the parents to the exhibit and start hand raising the chicks. We hand feed the chicks so they get accustomed to eating whole fish from the keepers' hands instead of regurgitated fish from their parents. [See video of feeding time with the grown-ups on this earlier post!]

Here is a group of chicks that is starting the hand raising process.

Once the chicks are eating from us easily, have fully fledged (replaced their downy chick feathers with their waterproof juvenile plumage) and are swimming comfortably in pools behind the scenes we will start introducing the chicks to the penguin exhibit.

This chick is ready for its first swim in the penguin exhibit.

Much like the first day of school, the first trip to the penguin exhibit can be a bit overwhelming for the young penguin. We slowly introduce the new penguins to the exhibit. At first, they may spend less than an hour on exhibit with the staff watching them very closely. As the youngsters get more comfortable they will stay in the exhibit for longer and longer periods of time with less and less supervision from the staff. Before we feel the new penguins are ready to be in exhibit full time we make sure they can get up on the islands easily to rest and feed with the rest of the colony.

One of the new chicks resting on a island in the penguin exhibit.

Each penguin is unique and some may take longer than others to adjust to the penguin exhibit. Finally a name is chosen for them once they join the other 80-plus penguins in our colony.

Watch these videos of some of our chicks' first experiences in the penguin exhibit.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What's Happening: Bird Bath

While the young African penguins are getting their feet wet behind the scenes, we thought you might enjoy a look at the some of the rockhoppers splashing around in the main exhibit.

Here's a video of some penguin activity while the sprinklers are on, as promised in this previous blog post. Enjoy!

- Andrea

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Breeding: Tubby Time!

Penguins are excellent swimmers, there is no doubt about that! But they are not born ready for life in the ocean. As you have seen in previous posts (Watch chicks break out of their shells here, or check out the tiny chicks during their weigh-ins here!), when penguin chicks hatch out of their shell they are very small and helpless.

Here's a chick in the fluffy stage.

Newborn chicks are initially covered in a sparse down, usually brown with a white chest. After a week or two this is replaced with a much thicker layer of secondary down. When the chick approaches full size the down is replaced by waterproof feathers, in a process called fledging.

These chicks are fledging into their waterproof feathers!

Once their waterproof juvenile feathers grow in we introduce them to swimming. We swim them in the pools behind the scenes for short periods and gradually increase their swim until they are swimming like pros.

A juvenile penguin goes for a dip!

Watch these videos to see our chicks swimming behind the scenes.