Thursday, March 26, 2009

African Penguins Arrive at Charleston, SC

Penguins visit aquarium
Flightless South American birds arrive from California to delight of Charleston's children
By Edward C. Fennell (Contact)
The Journal
Thursday, March 26, 2009

Drew Bobey's pen darted across the pages of her tiny notebook as educators at the S.C. Aquarium spoke about the new penguin exhibit.

"I really like penguins because they are fun," said Drew, who is 9 and a Daniel Island Elementary School student. She and many other children who last week saw the four Magellanic penguins of the Penguin Planet exhibit pronounced them to be entertaining. At least one teacher is convinced that penguins also are educational.

Asked what she put in her notebook, Drew thumbed through the pages and said she wrote that the four penguins are males and two of them are brothers. She also wrote "how old each one is, and that there's no snow in the tank," she said.

Clint Ball, the aquarium's senior biologist, said one penguin is 2, one is 15 and the other two are believed to each be 12-16 years old. Penguins can live 25-30 years, he said.

The four Magellanic penguins represent a threatened species living in the wild in the Falkland Islands and off the coasts of Chile and Argentina. They have distinctive stripes on their chests, stand about 2 feet tall and weigh about 10 pounds. They eat as much as a pound of food per day, Ball said.

Ball said these penguins were hatched at SeaWorld San Diego and are used to being handled, fed and admired by people. The penguins in Charleston don't have names, just numbers. The birds are flightless and flew to Charleston by airliner. After a year in Charleston, they will return to their 40-member colony out West.

Penguins are favorites because they are energetic and playful.

"A SeaWorld keeper compared them to cats," Ball said.

As one penguin swam continuously and the other three remained out of the water, Ball noted they "seem to be very comfortable and are having a good time. They are showing zero signs of stress," he said.

He said that although penguins are best known as occupants of the Antarctic, this species actually prefers milder temperatures. When the weather heats up in Charleston, the penguins will remain comfortable in their climate-controlled exhibit area with its saltwater pond and rocks, Ball said.

Michelle Martin, whose second-graders were among Memminger Elementary School kids visiting the exhibit, said the class completed a study of penguins just two weeks earlier. It is just a coincidence, she said, that Penguin Planet opened at the aquarium. But when she heard that it was coming, she said, she knew it would be the perfect way to extend and enhance the study project.

"They loved learning about penguins. That was their favorite thing all year. It's perfect timing," Martin said.

K-Syah Anderson, 8, one of the Memminger second-graders, said she likes penguins "because they are cute. Some got stripes, and they eat fish," she said.

Her classmate, Kierra Wellington, also 8, said the penguins made her laugh. "They waddle, and one sneezed on me," she added.

Aquarium staffers guided children through the exhibit, let them watch a penguin gulping down small fish whole and gave the eager kids a chore.

"Who wants to put vitamins inside the fish," an educator asked before guiding them to a table where it could be done. The penguins need daily vitamins, and when they are inserted into the fish they love, the penguins never even know the pills are there, Ball explained.

Tyrek Epps, 8, and some of his friends grimaced as they clutched wet, cold fish.

Drew took down all Ball said about penguins in her notebook and said she's helping with chores around the house in hopes the family "can go see them in the Antarctic."

Drew wants to be a zookeeper someday and is getting some practice by helping raise a menagerie at home: "Two dogs, two fish, two frogs and three snails," she said.

The aquarium has become her second home. "This is like my 20th time here," she said. "I got to come to a sleepover," she said, referring to an aquarium program that invites groups to bring blankets and pillows and camp out next to the fish tanks and other exhibits.

"I really didn't go to sleep," Drew confided. "I watched the sharks all night."

Story and images courtesy of the Post and Courier @

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