Thursday, July 26, 2007

Penguins and Summer Camp

Summer camp at the Tennessee Aquarium is a part of being the penguin keeper. The campers really enjoy visiting Penguins’ Rock, and I enjoy answering their questions. Here is a sample of interesting questions, from a group of the younger campers who were visiting the penguins for the first time.

Why do penguins eat fish? Penguins were made to hunt fish. Everything about them is suited for life in the water. Their beaks are designed for catching fish. Some penguins have long, thin, pointed beaks and some have shorter, thicker beaks; each type suited for catching different kinds of fish. Penguins are also built for speed underwater so they can chase and catch their prey. Here at the Tennessee Aquarium their favorite fish are smelt, capelin and mackerel.

Why don’t they have a slide? As much fun as that would be for us, penguins wouldn’t like a slide. Penguins really prefer diving into the water.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


From time to time you may notice some objects that seem out of place in the exhibit. Now that the penguins have been here awhile we are working on giving the penguins some enrichment. You may have noticed enrichment with the giant Pacific octopus in the form of a Mr. Potatohead. Mr. P. is not something that would be found in the wild, but a toy is something that’s stimulating and entertaining to the animal. River otters get boomer balls which are hard plastic balls. Sometimes fish are put inside hollow balls. Occasionally the otters play with Frisbees, and once last February a fresh bucket of snow was brought in from outside. They loved playing in the snow. Every day the macaws get a quick enrichment activity. It could be something as simple as a paper lunch sack with peanuts, leather strips or nuts inside. The macaws also like their showers which are considered enrichment. We just started giving the penguins enrichment recently. Their first enrichment item was a frozen block with smelt in it. Of course smelt is a normal item that they like to eat, but inside a block of ice it was somewhat scary at first. After the block was carefully placed in the water, they started swimming around completely avoiding the ice block until they saw the smelt inside. Once they realized there was food inside, it became a completely different story. Later on that same day I put another one in, and they went right for it. They learned very fast. Macaronis especially liked the ice and smelt. It was fun for everyone to see the unusual positions the macaronis would put themselves in to get at the ice block. It was enriching and stimulating for the penguins and fun for the staff to watch. Enrichment is important because it’s good for the mental health of the animals by keeping their minds stimulated. Active minds helps keep all of them in better overall health.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Happy 4th of July!

It's a busy travel week nationwide and we are thankful for everyone who chooses to visit the Tennessee Aquarium. It's fun to hear some of your stories about traveling to Chattanooga. Here's one sent in by Mary from Texas: We came to Tennessee to visit family. We lived in Tennessee in 2005. We moved before the construction on the new aquarium was finished. We were very excited to come back for a visit and see the new exhibits. We thought that the penguin exhibit was incredible. This was the first time any of us had ever had the chance to see penguins. My daughter Hope, who just turned 3, could have stayed with the penguins for the entire day. She loved that she was able to stand right at their level. The penguins seemed to be aware of their visitors and acted as if they were playing with the kids at the glass wall. That allowed my daughter to feel as if she was interacting with them. The penguins felt as if they were close enough to touch. My daughters Faith and Hope have not been able to stop talking about the penguins. Thanks for the great picture and sharing your story Mary. Happy 4th of July everyone!