Friday, December 31, 2010

Penguin Pal: Pebble II

This is Pebble II; she is a southern rockhopper with a blue bracelet on her right wing. She was hatched on December 15, 2008, at SeaWorld in Orlando, and came to the New England Aquarium in November of 2009. (To learn more on how we transported these penguins from Florida to Boston, click on this post.)

Pebble II

Pebble is named after Pebble Island. Pebble Island is the third largest island that makes up the Falkland Islands. It is one of the 22 areas in the Falkland Islands that is considered an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International. There are about 40 species of birds that live or breed on Pebble Island including southern rockhopper penguins, macaroni penguins, Magellanic penguins and gentoo penguins.

View Larger Map

In addition to being a southern rockhopper breeding island, Pebble Island was the site of a major conflict during the Falkland War in 1982. More recently Pebble Island was the first of the Falkland Islands to generate the majority of its electricity by using wind turbines. (To learn other ways you can reduce your energy usage, visit the live blue Initiative and click on the Blue List.)

The next time you are visiting the Aquarium try to find Pebble hopping around the rockhopper island. If you are visiting the Aquarium over the New Year holiday weekend, you will also be able to a representation of Pebble carved from ice in our penguin-themed First Night ice sculpture.

Look for Pebble in the First Night ice sculpture on the Aquarium Plaza! Her name is written in the ice.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Penguins and Polar Bears

It seems everywhere you look it is hard not to be reminded that we are in the holiday season. [Check out our Thanksgiving post here!] Your local department store has been decorated in red and green since Halloween, greeting cards are arriving in the mail, and there are Christmas TV programs and commercials on all the channels. Amongst all this holiday spirit you have probably seen a few images of penguins and polar bears sharing the holiday cheer together.

Remember this Coca-Cola commercial? [View the full commercial on YouTube here.] Well, can you identify what is wrong with this picture!? Here's a hint: it is not the fact that penguins and polar bears don't drink soda pop.   

Even though they can live in similar types of habitats, you will never find penguins and polar bears living together in the wild.

Credits: photo on left by Ansgar Walk via Wikimedia Commons; photo on right by Aquarium Explorer in Residence Brian Skerry

Polar bears are found in the Arctic Circle region of the Northern Hemisphere. Penguins are found in the Southern Hemisphere ranging from the Galapagos Islands to the coast of Antarctica. They are separated by the warm waters around the equator.

The range of polar bears, seen in yellow 

You can see penguin species' distribution in orange

Now the next time you get a greeting card or see a commercial with penguins and polar bears together, you can impress your friends and tell them that even though it is very cute and a great advertising technique it is never something you'll see in the wild.

Happy Holidays from the Penguin staff!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

FAQ-Can penguins see underwater?

If you jumped into the water and opened your eyes everything would look blurry. That is because our eyes focus best in air, and not water. Since we are terrestrial animals this is not a problem. If we need to see underwater we can wear goggles or a diving mask. Goggles and masks help us see underwater by creating a little pocket of air in front of our eyes in addition to protecting our eyes from salt water or stinging chlorine.

No goggles needed for this African penguin.

But people? Goggles or a dive mask come in handy for seeing underwater.
Photo on left via Wikimedia Commons, photo on right is a diver in the GOT

Penguins are visual ocean hunters so they need to be able to see well underwater in order to catch fish and avoid predators.  But they also need to see well on land so that they can find proper breeding sites and protect and care for their eggs and young. If a penguins' eyes could focus only in air then they would be at a disadvantage when in the water, and vice versa.

Penguins have evolved a flattened cornea which refracts light less strongly then ours and strong eye muscles that can change the shape of the lens allowing for sharper vision underwater. These adaptations allow focus in air and in water!!!

This rockhopper penguin can see well underwater and on land!

In addition, penguins have a clear eyelid called a nictitating membrane that protects their eyes when underwater. 

These adaptations eliminate the need for penguins to pack goggles whenever they go to the beach.

Penguins have evolved many other amazing adaptations. The Penguin Blog is the place to learn about penguin ears and penguin knees. You can even see what scientists think prehistoric penguins looked like!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Volunteer Appreciation Night

On any given day the penguin exhibit can have up to 6 volunteers helping us out, which adds up to over 40 volunteers coming in each week. During the last year our penguin volunteers logged 13,000 hours. You will find Aquarium volunteers helping out in almost every department —from animal husbandry, to visitor education and even our volunteer office! The total number of hours donated by all Aquarium volunteers is 100,250. That is the equivalent of one person working an 8 hour day, five days a week for 48 years!

Some volunteers are students who want to gain experience in the animal husbandry field, some are retirees looking for something interesting to do, and all are passionate about the oceans and the animals that live in it.

Each year we set aside a night to show all our volunteers how much we appreciate all the hard work they put in at the Aquarium each week. At the Volunteer Appreciation Night the volunteers are treated with good food, music, and raffle prizes.

Snacks for all! (photo credit Megan Sampson)

Giving out prizes. (photo credit Michelle Semler)

What a pair of winners!

We also highlight volunteers who have obtained volunteering milestones. Here are some photos of some of our volunteers that received awards for volunteering over 1000 hours.

Karen is all smiles accepting her award from Aquarium president Bud Ris (left) and another long-time Aquarium volunteer. (photo credit: Megan Sampson)

Kim (photo credit: Megan Sampson)

Sarah (photo credit: Megan Sampson)

Anthony (photo credit: Michelle Semler)

This is Marcia H.

Photo credit: Megan Sampson

She has been a volunteer at the Aquarium since 1985, splitting her time between the Education and Penguin departments, and logging 9,711 hours! All of her hours educating the public has paid off as Marcia gives one of the best penguin presentations around!

The Volunteer Appreciation Night is always a great event. Our volunteers work so hard throughout the year and deserve a night to be recognized and have some fun.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

FAQ-Do penguins have ears?

When you look at a penguin's head you can see their eyes, their beak, even a tongue if they open up. But you will not see any ears. [You won't see any knees either, but they're there! Check out this post on penguin knees.] So you may ask "Do penguins have ears?"

Even though you don’t see any ears, doesn't mean they are not there!

In fact, they do have ears that are located on each side of their head. But they do not have external ear flaps. Their ears are just holes and are covered by feathers. The absence of external ear flaps gives the penguins a more streamline shape and minimizes drag as they swim through the water.

No external ear flaps reduce drag as the penguins zoom through the water.

Even though you cannot see their ears doesn't mean they do not hear well. Penguins have very specialized hearing above and below the water. They can recognize individual penguins by their voices. Parent penguins returning from foraging trips can pick their mate and chicks out from among hundreds or even thousands of other penguins on the island — just by their voices!

While watching these videos of several penguins vocalizing at once try to recognize the different penguins based on their calls. If you were a penguin you could!

- Andrea