Friday, June 29, 2007

Our Flippers Keep Us From Tripping

I love to get questions from visitors, and here's a great one from Caleb who came to the Tennessee Aquarium from Nashville, TN. Caleb asks, "Why do penguins put their fins out when they walk?" Well Caleb that's a great question. When walking, penguins use their flippers or wings for balance. So when you see a penguin in a big hurry on land, most of the time they will have their flippers out to the side and pulled slightly back to help with balance. Although somewhat clumsy on land, gentoos can out run a person over short distances. At Penguins' Rock you'll sometimes see them running for the pan of fish like the gentoos in the picture above.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Penguin Curiosity

All of the penguins have adjusted to our equipment and cleaning techniques, especially the hoses. However, being curious by nature, our penguins like to explore anything new. It doesn’t matter if it’s the antennae on my radio sticking out of the back of my greens, the rubberized coveralls we wear, or the water stream coming out of the water hose. It’s all interesting. Many times you’ll see gentoo’s chasing the water stream as I clean the rocks. It’s really pretty comical and sometimes you’ll see me laughing at their antics. This brings up an important lesson we were taught before the penguins arrived here. Penguin curiosity can get them in trouble. Just about all of the penguins will snap up anything in an instant if given a chance. So you’ll always see us keeping a watchful eye on “items” while in the exhibit; whether it’s a simple scrub brush, water streaming from the hose or even the stoppers on our jackets. We don’t like to take chances so we make sure everything that goes in with us comes out when we do.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Early Morning Checkups

First thing every morning I do a keeper check. I begin by observing the birds from the public side. The wave machine is off in the early morning hours so I can get a better look at each individual gentoo and macaroni. My favorite place to observe them is the little horseshoe area as they slow down to turn around in this area. I can look at feathers, eyes, beaks and feet. I’m checking for anything abnormal which can vary somewhat for every bird. Each bird looks slightly different. Feathers may line up a bit differently on one bird compared to another. Tail feathers may also be slightly longer or shorter. And even their beaks have subtle differences. By knowing how they appear in a “normal” state, I can tell if one of the penguins has had a bump or scrape that might need further examination. I also look at their flipper bands and make sure they are not turned the wrong direction, or if their bands are missing. That’s why they have two. One question I get asked quite a bit is, “Do the flipper bands hurt the penguins?” The answer is, absolutely not. The bands don’t bother the birds in any way. It’s like you or I wearing a wedding ring or watch. It’s something that has always been there and they are used to it. Over time one may work loose and fall off. When that happens, the lost band usually ends up in the skimmer, where the water exits the exhibit to go to the filters that help keep their water clean.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Do penguins sleep?

If you have clicked onto the Tennessee Aquarium’s penguin cam at the right time you’ll observe our birds resting. But they don’t really go to sleep like humans, they tend to go into a longer period of napping without falling into a true deep sleep. Penguins have a natural instinct to always be on guard against any lurking predators wherever they may be. That’s another reason why they sleep fairly close together at night so there’s less of a chance any one bird being taken off guard. You’ll also notice that our penguins sleep in several different positions. It is perfectly normal for gentoos and macaronis to rest or sleep on their bellies. They also sleep while standing, sometimes with their beak tucked under their wing which helps regulate heat loss. Another interesting way I have seen them sleep is when they roll onto the back part of their foot bringing their toes off the ground. This helps regulate heat loss by keeping their toes off an icy or cold surface. Late in the afternoon after their last feeding of the day they tend to start preening. With full bellies, they go into a restful mode. But even in the middle of the night, you’re apt to see one or more penguins swimming or waddling around while everyone else is sleeping.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Brushy Tails Means Careful Brushing

Our beautiful mural was done by artist David Rock who is known around the world for painting gallery backgrounds for aquariums, zoos and museums. You probably are not aware of it, but if you have visited Disney's Animal Kingdom, Chicago's Shedd Aquarium or the Central Park Zoo you have seen more of his work. Here is a link to his website so you can see some of the other scenes he has created: We are very careful with the mural, but the birds are not. When was the last time you paid attention to a gentoo's tail? They are members of the brush tailed penguin family and have very long, stiff tails which assists them as prop for balance while resting on land, a rudder while in the water, and as I have found out, at times little slings. You see I noticed right away tiny white specks on the mural. I discovered that every time a gentoo wiggles it’s tail...which is a lot....they ever so delicately fling guano on the mural. So you may see myself or others in the back of the exhibit delicately dabbing the mural clean. It’s a balancing act between cleaning poo and not wiping away any of David’s work. His brushes are much more artistic than the brushy tails of the penguins.