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.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Incubation: It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it

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!

Incubation is the process by which the embryo in a fertile egg develops and the most important factor in the embryo’s development is a constant temperature provided by the parents. The parents will carefully sit over the eggs and keep them warm with their body heat using a patch of exposed skin called a brood patch.

Little blue penguins incubating an egg

Since the penguin parents’ food source comes from the sea, wild penguins will not eat while they are sitting on the eggs. During this incubation, one parent is out to sea eating their fill and must return so the incubating mate can go to sea to feed. The amount of time the penguin is out to sea foraging for food depends on the species. The most extreme example is the Emperor penguin, once the female lays the egg she returns to the sea to feed and it is the males responsibility to incubate the egg for the entire 2 month incubation period. The female returns in time for the chick to hatch so she can start feeding it.

Most of the other penguin species split the responsibility of incubating the eggs more evenly. Little blue penguins usually switch sitting on the eggs every few days.

Goanna sits on her egg
Here is a photo of Goanna, in her nest incubating her egg. As you can see she has been sitting on the egg for a few days and has gotten a little dirty. Luckily her mate Lion switched with her shortly after this picture was taken and she was able to go in the tub for a swim to clean up. Hopefully when it is her turn to incubate the eggs again she won’t get so dirty.

Goanna goes for a swim!

While the babies remain behind the scenes, come see the little blue penguins in their usual spot in the exhibit! Choose a time you wish to visit and buy a timed ticket online. Print it out at home (no service charge!) and you'll be well on your way to seeing all 80+ birds at the New England Aquarium!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Home, sweet, home!

The penguin colony is once again complete! After spending several months in their temporary exhibit during the transformation of the Giant Ocean Tank, the little blue penguins have returned to their usual rock in a cozy corner of the Penguin Exhibit (where Myrtle and many of the animals from the Giant Ocean Tank once swam—can you believe?). While a few birds remain behind the scenes for breeding purposes, you'll see more little blues than ever before hopping around the rock today.

Here are just a few of the many faces in the little blue penguins exhibit!

Come by to see all 80+ birds in the penguin colony! Buy your timed ticket online and print it out home, you'll be well on your way to see the birds feed, swim, preen and play.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Little Blue Penguins Lay Eggs!

Behind the scenes it 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.

After some time spent courting with each other, we are happy to report that a few of our little blue breeding pairs have laid eggs. The eggs are about the size of a small chicken egg, usually around 55 millimeters long and about 40 millimeters wide (that’s about 2 inches x 1 ½ inches). Little blues will usually lay two eggs a few days apart. They will incubate the eggs for about 38 days.  

Little blue penguin egg

A parent sits on it to keep it nice and warm

After about 10 days of incubation we will candle the egg to see if it is fertile. We use a candler, which shines a concentrated beam of light through the egg, allowing us to see inside the egg. If the egg is fertile the embryo appears as a dark spot surrounded by a web of blood vessels that become larger as incubation progresses. As the hatch date approaches, the growing embryo becomes so big that it takes up most of the space and all we can see is a dark mass and an air space, which the chic must initially break (or pip) into at the start of hatching.

Here is a video of the little blue eggs being candled. 

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

The little blue penguin breeding pairs will remain behind the scenes for a little while. But you can see the rest of the colony in their cozy temporary exhibit near the marine mammal center. Of course, you can't miss the African and rockhoppers in their usual exhibit while you're here. Visiting has never been easier. Choose the day and time you want to see the penguins with timed ticketing.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Getting to know you

While everyone is thrilled to have the rockhopper and African penguins back in the building, behind the scenes it 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.

Like our African penguins, our little blue penguins are part of a Species Survival Plan, or SSP.  Essentially the SSP makes breeding recommendations. The genealogy of each individual animal is known and is kept in a studbook. Heather is the species manager of the North American little blue penguin population studbook, so she will communicate with other institutions that have little blue penguins and keep track of any additions or subtractions to their colonies. Then this information is plugged into a specific program which ranks the birds based on their genetic value and breeding recommendations are made. 

With the newly acquired little blue penguins we were very excited that we now have four new SSP approved breeding pairs, each pair consists of one of our original penguins and one of the new penguins. These birds had never seen each other prior to pairing them for breeding. With any arranged relationship it is always questionable if the two individuals will hit it off. Each pair was given their own kennel style area with soft matting, a cave top and nesting material (like this). We even played romantic music for them. By romantic music I mean a recording of little blue vocalizations. Then we watched each pair for signs that they are starting to form bonds. 

One of our new little blue breeding pairs getting to know each other in their cozy private room

Click this link for a sample of the romantic music (little blue penguin vocalizations) which we play for our new pairs: ‘Romantic Music for Little Blue Penguins’ on Audioboo

We are happy to say that all the pairs hit it off very well right from the start. We have seen a lot of vocalizations, nest building, courtship displays and even mating. We were hopeful that these early signs suggest a successful breeding season. 

Our breeding pairs even get private swimming time to help strengthen their bond

Stay tuned to the blog for updates on our pairs!

The little blue penguin breeding pairs will remain behind the scenes for a little while. But you can see the rest of the colony in their cozy temporary exhibit near the marine mammal center. Of course, you can't miss the African and rockhoppers in their usual exhibit while you're here. Visiting has never been easier. Choose the day and time you want to see the penguins with timed ticketing.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Little Blue Penguin Breeding Time

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. 

Most of the little blue penguins are visible in a temporary exhibit right now. But all penguins—including the rockhopper and African penguins—return this week. The New Aquarium Experience starts July 1. 

As you may have read in a previous post our little blue penguin colony just got a little bigger. Last summer we obtained 14 little blue penguins from the Taronga Zoo in Australia. In addition to increasing the number of individual penguins, these additional penguins will also help increase the genetic diversity of our colony.

Based on SSP (Species Survival Plan) recommendations we have four pairs of little blues breeding in our holding rooms behind the scenes. (Refresh yourself on how the Aquarium uses SSP recommendations to make breeding pairs for our African penguins here and here.)

Our recently increased little blue penguin colony: the SSP will tell us
which of these lucky birds will be our breeding pairs.

If you have followed our blog you have read about some of our more recent successful African penguin breeding seasons. You may also remember the story of Lion, a little blue penguin that we had to hand raise as a tiny chick. We have a lot of experience under our belts, (over 40 years to be exact!!) and we are ready for another breeding season. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the new pairs hit it off and we have another successful year.

Here are some of the results of our more recent breeding seasons.

Lion, the little blue penguin

A handful of African penguin chicks

If you are new to our blog, welcome! And learn about past breeding adventures HERE.
Stay tuned to the blog for little blue penguin breeding updates.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Even more little blues!

While the African and rockhopper penguins are definitely missed during the construction, families have been gushing over the super-close viewing access of our little blue penguins. Kids are going nose-to-nose with these adorable birds through the glass. Some of them appear to enjoy interacting with visitors, in fact.

Well, we have some exciting news about these penguins: the colony is about to get a lot bigger!

Let’s back up for a moment here. In June of 2012, 14 little blue penguins came over to the United States from the Taronga Zoo in Australia. They went through a month long USDA (U.S. Deptartment of Agriculture) quarantine in California before making the trip to Boston. Right now, visitors can see these beautiful little blue penguins in the temporary penguin exhibit near the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center. The birds pad around on sandy floor, clamber up and down the ramp and take dips in the pool. They seem quite comfy in their temporary home!

Just next door, another 15 little blues are behind the scenes getting the same TLC from the penguin staff. These are the New England Aquarium birds you remember from the exhibit! Until now, the two groups have been kept separate due to a month long Aquarium quarantine and followed by their yearly molts.

Well, the time has come to introduce the two groups. Visitors will be able to see even more little blues when they tuck into the temporary exhibit area to watch the penguins. But some of the little blues will still remain off exhibit. You see, bringing these penguins across international boundaries was an unprecedented move to make sure our breeding population of little blue penguins is genetically diverse. Hopefully the couples that remain behind the scenes will enjoy getting to know each other to keep our breeding program a success! (Learn more about the African penguins breeding program—or species survival plan—here.)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Penguin Fix: Three Species Swimming

As cool as it is to look down at Myrtle and the eels and the rays and the hundreds fish from the Giant Ocean Tank, now cruising through the Tropical Ocean Exhibit, we know many of you would love to see more penguins during our renovations. We wanted to give you a little penguin fix—how 'bout some swimming video!

Parts of this video was used during a recent webcast—but not all! So there should be a little something for every penguin-lover here: little blues diving into the water, rockhoppers porpoising and a raft of African penguins in their temporary home in Quincy.

The special live webcast brought Aquarium members behind the scenes of the little blue penguin exhibit—virtually. Andrea and Heather answered questions about these beloved birds during the Hangout, and the director Project Management and Design also gave some updates about the Giant Ocean Tank construction project. One lucky member who took part in a survey even won a very artful piece of Aquarium history. (If you want in on these special opportunities, too, consider becoming a member!)

Check out the full webcast here! It was originally broadcast on Tuesday, March 19, at 4 pm. 

Of course, if you want to see penguins swimming for yourself, come on down to see the little blues in their temporary exhibit at the Aquarium. You can find their nook near the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center. Visiting now means you also get special construction pricing!