Jan. 27, 2013
I went to the Picton Aquarium this morning and spent several hours among the tanks of fish, seahorses, sea stars, eels (ick!), lobsters, turtles, and such. Very interesting place, with touch tanks and films and one of those giant squids in a huge box full of preservatives (or just formaldehyde?).
What's special about this about this particular aquarium is that they're a rescue center. People bring pet turtles who need more UV rays (signs are broken bones or corroding shells), or injured sea creatures. The center also is working on repopulating certain islands with the tuatera, a native lizard something like an iguana, which is endangered due to both climate change and imported predators.
But the special thing about this center (for me) is that they often have rescue penguins - baby penguins who have been orphaned or abandoned, or adults penguins who have been injured.
Today, they had a little three month old blue penguin, who was found when he was just a wee chick, and he's been raised pretty much at the aquarium. He's grown up with the staff feeding him, playing with him, and now that he's grown his adult feathers (which are waterproof, the baby feathers aren't) they're teaching him to swim. So every day, at about 11 AM and 2 PM, one of the staff members carries the little blue penguin from the penguin room to the fish tanks, and pops him in for a swim. (There aren't any fish in there big enough to eat him, and all the fish are too big for Little Mr. Blue Penguin to eat, although he does eye them as he cruises around.) Little Mr. Blue is very slowly getting used to swimming, though he currently refuses to put his face in the water. This, of course, is a problem, because he needs to learn to dive to be able to catch his own fish. So this is a big concern at the aquarium, and the staff are very careful to keep an eye on him as he swims around on top of the water. When Little Mr. Blue has had enough, he hops out onto the rocks in the tank, and waits for someone to come pick him up - although he squawks and nips and pretends he wants to get back into the water.
But this was my chance to be less than a foot away from a little blue penguin, just a little guy but so full of personality. He stood in his box while we asked questions, practically standing on his little webbed toes so that he could look out and see what was going on - just a curious and nosy little guy. Too cute for words. And to see him swimming around in the fish tank, and hopping across the seaweed in the tank - he's very agile - it was just amazing! But until he learns to put that sweet little face into the water and dive, he's going to stay at the aquarium. Once he can dive and catch his own food, he'll be released.
The aquarium has only had four rescue penguins this season, and this little guy's swim buddy was recently released - but the buddy penguin was a very playful and rowdy guy in the water, and that sort of scared Little Mr. Blue. But the little blues mate and nest twice a year, and often when one nesting season brings few rescues the second season brings a lot, as if the parents do a good job with one set of chicks and get bored or something the second time around. Or maybe the fact that this is the hotter and dryer part of the year affects how the penguins are at parenting. At any rate, the aquarium has raised and released penguins for years, and the females are now returning to nest near the aquarium - just like sea turtles and salmon, they return to their home beach to lay their eggs and raise their young. (The boy penguins just follow the girls, as the penguin handler told us.)
While these aren't my photos (because the flash hurts their little penguin eyes, and my camera is uncooperative), these are what he looked like. Barely a foot tall, weighing maybe two lbs max, just a little chubby bundle of cuteness and energy.