Thursday, February 5, 2009

Maritime Aquarium News

They waddle comically on land but swim gracefully in the water, all while dressed semi-formally in black-and-white attire.

They’re found in surprising places: not just Antarctica but in Africa and also, starting Feb. 12, at The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, with the opening of “African Penguins,” a new special exhibit.

They’ll be stealing hearts daily in an outdoor display on the Aquarium’s riverfront courtyard, with plenty of viewing windows above and below the water line.

“There couldn’t be a more appropriate weekend for the penguins to debut than Valentine’s Day weekend, because visitors are definitely going to fall in love with them,” said Chris Loynd, marketing director of The Maritime Aquarium.

“There’s just something about penguins that make them a favorite of people of all ages,” Mr. Loynd said. “They’re the bird that can’t fly, and they bumble around on land, yet they’re so elegant in the water. We know, from surveys, that penguins are high on visitors’ lists of favorite animals, so we think these little guys are going to be very popular.”

Jack Schneider, the Aquarium’s curator of animals, said the African penguins will be an excellent complement to The Maritime Aquarium’s current special exhibit, “African Underwater Safari,” which showcases some of the lesser-known but equally fascinating aquatic animals of Africa. Penguins aren’t commonly associated with Africa, but this species is found solely on that continent’s southern coast.

“Educating visitors on where penguins live may be one of the first basic goals of the exhibit,” Mr. Schneider said. “None of them live at the North Pole, or with Eskimos or polar bears. Some species do live in Antarctica. But many penguins can be found in warmer climates of the southern hemisphere, like our African penguins in South Africa and several species that live up the western coast of South America, all the way to the equator and the Galapagos Islands.”

Mr. Schneider said the African penguins — whose conservation status is listed as vulnerable — will help call attention to Africa’s troubled coastal environments, which receive far less conservation protection than the continent’s inland savannahs, plains and jungles. That, he added, also makes the “African Penguins” exhibit a perfect companion to the Aquarium’s current IMAX movie, “Wild Ocean: Where Africa Meets the Sea,” which documents an annual sardine migration off the eastern coast of South Africa that is critical to the survival of whales, sharks, dolphin and other marine life, as well as to the humans in villages onshore. (The film, which includes a brief segment of African penguins feeding underwater, plays at noon daily through June 18.)

The stars of the “African Penguins” exhibit have come to Norwalk from The Great Plains Zoo in Sioux City, S.D., which made them available because of exhibit changes there. The penguins will be at The Maritime Aquarium until December 2010, when they then move on to a wildlife park in Ohio.

African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) stand about two feet tall and weigh 8 pounds. They’re recognizable by the black stripe that loops up across their chest and their pink “eyebrows.” Mr. Schneider said the pink “eyebrows” actually are an adaptation that helps them to survive in a warmer habitat like South Africa — or Norwalk. The “eyebrows” are featherless patches with lots of blood vessels underneath. When a penguin gets too hot, these patches get brighter as the penguin circulates more blood there to dissipate body heat.

African penguins also have evolved shorter feathers because, unlike Antarctic species, they do not face extreme cold.

Like the “African Underwater Safari” exhibit, “African Penguins” will be included with admission to The Maritime Aquarium.

For more details about The Maritime Aquarium’s exhibits, IMAX movies or other offerings — or to purchase advance admission tickets — go online to Or call (203) 852-0700.

Story and pic courtesy of Acorn Online @

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