Tuesday, February 3, 2009

You don't say?

This picture of "Bug", one of the Tennessee Aquarium's gentoo penguins, always makes me smile. It's easy to add a thought bubble above Bug's head that would make this even more comical. So for today's post, let's add the following thought bubble: "You don't say?"

For some reason, there has been a recent rash of people asking about the little boy who kidnapped or stole one of our penguins. "You don't say? I can't wait to tell my neighbor."

This may be one of the most interesting urban legends of our time. The tale is not true of course, whether it's one of our penguins or some other zoo or aquarium's bird. Yet there is an ebb and flow to this rumor that washes across the country through e-mails and blogs in waves. So, in honor of this most recent wave, let's revisit the Tennessee Aquarium blog archives from 2007:

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Nipping A Napping Story In The Bud
It's funny how some stories can keep resurfacing and being told again and again until they become the famous....."Urban Legend." So let's nip one in the bud before someone starts talking about a bird napping. For years there has been a story circulating literally all over the world about a child visiting a zoo and stuffing a live penguin in a back-pack and carrying it home. Several of these false alarms popped up from the United Kingdom to the United States in 2005. One place to read these urban legends is at this fact or fiction website: http://www.snopes.com/critters/farce/smuggled.asp This website even cites the 2002 children's book, Tina and the Penguin, by Heather Dyer that may have re-ignited these false stories. So it's not surprising that yet another penguin-napping story has popped up in the news lately. This time KUTV in Salt Lake City went myth busting when it was reported that a young boy had...you guessed it...stolen a penguin from the San Diego Zoo and it was later placed on exhibit at the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City. KUTV's Jeff Jaeger reports one major problem with the story though, the San Diego Zoo didn't have penguins in the first place. One surprise though...the Hogle Zoo reported people calling and visiting wanting to see the stolen penguin. For the full story check out this link: http://kutv.com/local/local_story_118212445.html The only time you'll see a penguin-napping at the Tennessee Aquarium is after a gentoo or macaroni has a belly full of fish. Or at night on our webcam. That's when they catch their Zzzzzzzzz's!

I know this won't put this story to bed for some. So let's add a few more myth-busting facts:
  1. The Aquarium's penguins don't keep a key under the doormat. In fact, only a very small group of employees have access to their home.
  2. Penguins look cuddly, but they can be rather feisty. If you're ever at the Tennessee Aquarium when it's time for our birds to be examined, you'll see that it's challenging for trained keepers to catch a bird. They'll dive into the water, waddle quickly off or simply peck and flap like crazy.
  3. Penguins have powerful flippers. Our keepers know how to safely subdue a bird when it's necessary to handle them. But even they respect the strong slap that can be delivered by a flipper.
  4. A penguin would continue to flap, squawk and wiggle around if it was in a backpack. And that would draw everyone's attention.

Add it all up and there's no way this story could be true.

UNLESS....this small boy slipped away from his parents like 007, had "Mission Impossible" locksmithing skills combined with the animal savvy of "Wild Kingdom's" Jim Fowler, and had a soundproof backpack created specifically for the caper by NASA.

"You don't say?"

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