Monday, October 6, 2008

Penguin Show and Tell

Penguin makes a splash at Clark library

Story and pictures by Radhika Marya
Monday October 06, 2008, 11:43 AM

CLARK--Hoards of families gathered at the Clark Public Library on Sept. 28 to catch a glimpse of an unusual visitor: The guest of honor, an African penguin named Dassen, was in town for one of the library's special Sunday afternoon programs.

Dassen was a crowd pleaser from the moment she came out of her carrier. A rapt audience watched as she waddled on top of a table, occasionally squawking and wrapping her neck around her handler's arm.

Angela Pizza, supervisor of penguins at Jenkinson's Aquarium, Point Pleasant Beach, made a point to ensure Dassen's comfort and safety during the presentation by asking attendees to avoid making loud noises that could startle the bird. She also warned against petting Dassen.

"Even though she looks very cute and cuddly, she can bite," Pizza said, referring to the penguin's sharp beak and the possibility that she could mistakenly view people's fingers as food.

With these rules in place, Dassen seemed happy to oblige everyone with her penguin antics. At one point, she lay down on her stomach while peering at the crowd. She also occasionally fluttered her wings rapidly, eliciting some giggles from youngsters. Pizza explained that this fluttering action was Dassen's "built-in air conditioner," allowing her to cool down whenever she felt too warm.

Pizza said African penguins -- also known as black-footed penguins -- are generally accustomed to warm climates, though they prefer cold water while swimming. While African penguins live to be only about 12 to 15 years old in the wild, those in captivity can live to be well over 30 years of age.

Pizza spent a good part of the presentation sharing a variety of facts about these penguins, including information about how a penguin's gender can be determined only via blood testing, how the birds grow and molt, and how their body shape causes their distinct movements.

For the grand finale, Pizza put Dassen down on the floor so that she could walk through the crowd. The penguin, described as a bird who "loves people and to have her picture taken," on the Jenkinson's Aquarium Web site, waddled to the end of the room with ease before Pizza picked her up again.

Attendees seemed pleased as they prepared to leave the event.

"I thought it was wonderful," said Janet DuBeau, a Clark resident who brought her grandson along. "It was very informative. I learned things I never knew about penguins."

The Clark Library hosted a similar event last year. This year's program was slightly different in that it included two back-to-back presentations so that more families, who needed to register in advance, could see the penguin up close. Children's Librarian Tammy Lee said that both presentations filled up quickly.

The library hosts a variety of family-oriented programs on Sundays between 1 to 5 p.m. Programs include pumpkin painting contests, live performances, movies and more. For additional information, visit

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