Friday, July 30, 2010

More on the Adelie Penguin/Climate Change Dilemma

July 29, 2010 

Thaw deal: Climate change could leave penguins in the dark

Adélie penguinsFew animals can live totally in the dark, and penguins are no exception. But new research shows that climate change could soon rob Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) of the sunlight they need to survive, and that could drive them into extinction.
The problem comes from melting sea ice, according to the report in the July 2010 issue of Ecology. As the climate changes and more of Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf melts, Adélie penguins will be forced farther inland. This will take the birds away from the small amount of sunlight they have during certain parts of the year at current latitudes, leaving them unable to see, hunt or endure.

The study followed two Adélie penguin colonies on Antarctica's Ross Island for three years, using geolocation sensor tags to track them as they migrated. As winter approached, the researchers found that the penguins always stayed in areas where there was a high concentration of sea ice and where there was at least two hours of twilight a day. (As one travels farther south, there are long daylight hours in summer, but as the season advances toward winter, daylight hours grow steadily shorter until in many parts of Antarctica the sun doesn't rise above the horizon at all.) The researchers then used the migration patterns they had observed to conjecture on how those patterns have changed as the Ross Ice Shelf has retreated across the Ross Sea, off the coast of Antarctica, over the past 12,000 years (as illustrated in this animation), and in more recent decades as well as how it could change in the future.

"As sea ice extent in the Ross Sea sector decreases in the near future, as predicted by climate models, we can expect further changes in the migration patterns of the Ross Sea penguins," according to the paper's abstract.

"Ultimately, penguins around Antarctica will face darkness or lack of ice," lead author Grant Ballard of PRBO Conservation Science said in a prepared statement.

"From studying the long-term history of this species in Antarctica, we know that animals are actually very good at adapting to fluctuating conditions in their environment," Ballard said." They do this by changing their migration routes or altering other feeding behaviors. In this case, however, ice conditions are changing so rapidly the penguins may not be able to adapt in time."

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Antarctic Program.
Photo: Adélie penguins, via Wikipedia


Penguins at West Orange's Turtle Back Zoo receive new names

Penguins at West Orange's Turtle Back Zoo receive new names

Published: Thursday, July 29, 2010, 4:35 PM     Updated: Thursday, July 29, 2010, 8:45 PM
penguin-zoo-west orange.jpegVisitors meet the newest addition to Penguin Coast, one of the most popular exhibits at Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange.
WEST ORANGE — Sir Turnpike and Lady Parkway, as well as Good and Plenty, were among the top six names submitted by Turtle Back Zoo-goers for two new African Penguins who have, until this afternoon, remained nameless.
But zoo officials opted instead for sweet sounding names that better fit the birds' character.
As a result, the new additions to Penguin Coast exhibit will be called "Cookies" and "Cream," Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. announced this afternoon.
"We wanted to match the personality to the names and these birds are very sweet," said Zoo Director Dr. Jeremy Goodman.
The penguins, each about 2 years old, were born in Denver and brought to the zoo through a species survival and breeding program, said Kelly Laven, a senior bird keeper at the county zoo in West Orange.
Penguin fans seemed to think the new names were a good fit.
"They remind me of cookies!" said 6-year-old Musconetcong Valley Camp Association camper Matthew Megara.
"They were so cute, I liked them a lot," added 9-year-old MVCA camper Lily Smith.
Almost 3,000 names were suggested by visitors and fans, said DiVincenzo.
"We try to get the public involved to say thank you; They are the real owners," DiVincenzo said.

The penguins are back at the Turtle Back Zoo


Penguin Protection at the Zoo

Penguin Tie to Byrd's Travels

Penguin has tie to Byrd's travels

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
LITTLE AMERICA, WYO. — The emperor penguin sits on a mock block of ice, frozen in place, as it were, inside a glass case.
And as it is with a lot of things in Wyoming that can't talk, it has quite a story to tell.
The penguin was supposed to be alive when it got here, but life doesn't always work out the way you've planned it, and the hard truth is the penguin arrived dead.
When that was, precisely, is murky, an exact date lost to time. The closest anyone here can come is sometime before 1958, which is when Norma Jean Mandros first reported for duty.
Norma is the youngest oldest person in the front office, a loyal Little America employee for 50-plus years. She plans to retire next month — although she chokes up at the mere thought of it, so we'll see — and all she knows is that the penguin was here when she got here.
"It was sitting in that case, just like it is now," she says. "No one's ever touched it, as far as I know."
Deductive reasoning surmises that it was in the late 1940s or early 1950s when a man named Isak Lystad first delivered the bird to the high plains of Wyoming. It had been requisitioned by S.M. Covey, the founder and owner of Little America, who wanted a genuine penguin from Antarctica as a mascot for his property.
Story continues below
This made perfect sense because Little America, Wyo., was named after Little America, Antarctica, the barren outpost constructed on the Ross Ice Shelf by Admiral Richard E. Byrd on his first trip to the South Pole, in 1928.
In 1932, when Covey, a sheepherder from Utah, first opened his way station for travelers, about 60 miles east of the Utah-Wyoming border, he wanted a name that shouted "remote" and "shelter" and "outpost" — and Little America was it.
Byrd led five Antarctic expeditions in all, from 1928 through 1956. Lystad was a ship's captain on the third expedition, in 1939-40. So the penguin definitely didn't show up until after that.
Somewhere in the 10,000 miles between Little America and Little America, the penguin died.
Lore has it that Covey said he'd take the bird anyway. It was something of a long shot that the bird would have made it for long even if he'd arrived alive, given the distance to the nearest ocean (1,000 miles), the elevation (7,000 feet above sea level) and the scarcity of an emperor penguin's preferred diet of squid, krill and crustaceans.
The penguin was stuffed and enclosed in the glass case that it remains in to this day, along with a little plaque explaining the details about going from Plan A (alive) to Plan B (this).
Ever since, interest in the penguin has refused to die.
"Every day, people check out the penguin and read the plaque," says Scott French, Little America's manager. "We have people all the time stop in to see if the penguin's still here. They saw it years ago when they were kids, and they want to see it again."
Just about everything else about Little America has changed. In 1963, Covey sold out to Earl and Carol Holding, who went on to create a small chain of Little America hotels in the western U.S. and then, for good measure, added their crown jewel, Salt Lake's five-star Grand America Hotel.
The two-lane Lincoln Highway out front that used to traverse Wyoming, and America, has become Interstate 80. The original Little America (Wyoming version) might still be a shelter and outpost for travelers, but now you can be in Evanston in 45 minutes, or Green River in 20.
And even as we speak, they're planning Norma's retirement party.
But the penguin mascot remains, a glue to the past and hedge on the future. Whatever else happens, that Little America penguin isn't going anywhere.


Six Antarctic Penguins at Dubai Aquarium

Aquatic attraction: Breeding Penguins

Come 2011 and six Antarctic penguins at Dubai Aquarium might be ready to breed
  • By Nadeem Hanif, Staff Reporter
  • July 29, 2010
Swimming beauties:
  • Gentoo penguins in their enclosure at the Dubai Mall Aquarium
  • Image Credit: Xpress/ Karen Dias
Dubai: Rare Antarctic penguins could be bred at a popular Dubai aquatic attraction from next year.
The gentoo penguins have been settling into their home at the custom-built Melting Ice Exhibition in Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Mall, for the last seven weeks. The six birds are about a year old and have put on almost 20 per cent more weight from the initial 8kg that they weighed when they first arrived in June.

The extra fat will help sustain them when they undergo moulting — losing and re-growing their feathers over the next 30 days.

Paul Hamilton, Dubai Aquarium Curator, said the weight gain was normal and an important phase in the birds' development.

Moulting period

"They go through moulting once a year and during that period they can't go into the water and fish because they lose their protection. They rely on the extra fat to sustain them through this period," he said,adding that during this phase they look like "plucked chickens".

The current exhibit is triple the size recommended for six penguins and the aquarium plans to encourage breeding between the three males and three females.

"They can start breeding when they are about two years old and we expect to add about one newborn penguin a year. After the first generation is born, the common practice is to switch birds with other zoos and aquariums to keep the gene pool fresh," Hamilton said. To encourage breeding, aquarium staff will have to create some environmental cues such as temperature change for summer and winter, along with changing the light durations. The penguins arrived in the climate-controlled section of a passenger jet from Edinburgh, Scotland.

"They were part of a colony of 100 penguins in Scotland. So it took them some time to get used to the situation as they were only six. But now they have got used to the handlers and aren't fazed by people looking through the acrylic windows at them," Hamilton said.

At present, the exhibit is being kept at 4°C, which is mild for the penguins, but it can be dropped to 0°C. The birds are part of 33,000 other aquatic animals from over 220 species kept in the zoo, including crocodiles, hammerhead sharks and otters.

Entrance for the attraction at Dubai Mall is Dh50.


Penguin vs Shark

(Thanks Cora!)

Image of the Day

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Image of the Day

A chinstrap penguin on the beach, King George Island, Antarctica,

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Image of the Day

Macaroni penguins...
Originally uploaded by Jo Sze
on Cooper Island ("Le Diamant" December 2009)

Penguin Island News

Tuesday 27 July

penguins news

Hot and steamy on Summerlands Peninsula
Penguins are starting early this year, getting in to shape and getting as much practice as possible before the breeding season begins in September.
It is not their usual time to breed but the large numbers of Little Penguins on Phillip Island are coming ashore to mate without producing eggs. This ‘false breeding season’ lasts for four to five weeks and males at the Penguin Parade have been courting females with calls and displays.

In past years the penguins abandon these attempts at breeding and start again around September.
In other news, there have been no recorded Little Penguin deaths due to foxes during the 2009/2010 financial year.
“This is a positive sign that the Nature Park’s fox eradiation strategy is having a significant impact on fox numbers on Phillip Island,” said Dr Roz Jessop, environment Manager at the Nature Park. The strategy is in its fourth year and aims to eliminate the European Red Foxes, one of the greatest land-based threats to the Little Penguins and other wildlife on Phillip Island.

a penguin odyssey

Penguin Island Television Premier
An entertaining, epic view of life, love and survival from the smallest penguins in the world…
Penguin Island - a documentary series following the fascinating lives of the world’s smallest penguins, premiered in the U.K. on BBC One, Wednesday 14 July.

The series takes viewers on a journey with the Little Penguins as they search for love, go through the trials and tribulations of raising a family and struggle to survive a scorching summer on Phillip Island.

Over two years in the making, the six-part series used satellite tracking and underwater cameras to capture the ‘secret’ lives of several wild Little Penguin families. Penguin Island also goes ‘behind the scenes’ to show the passionate Nature Park scientists and rangers who work to protect them.

The series was filmed at the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island which sees over half a million visitors each year and is home to one of the largest Little Penguin colonies in the world.

Penguin Island was produced by 360 Degree Films with the talent of Australia’s best documentary filmmakers (including David Parer) and will screen on ABC Australia in September, Arte France and National Geographic as well as the BBC.

did you know?

Penguins are not found in the Australian Fur Seal diet; however this compares to their neighbours the New Zealand fur Seals which find little penguins a juicy treat.

penguin foundation

The Penguin Foundation is turning 5 this year! Stay tuned for birthday celebrations

Adopt a Penguin

Source: Penguin Foundation Newsletter July 2010

How to Make an Origami Penguin

Penguin deaths in Brazil attributed to starvation

Penguin deaths in Brazil attributed to starvation

Published: Monday, July 26, 2010, 2:22 PM   
brazil-penguin-deaths.jpgView full sizeIn this photo released by Aquario Municipal de Peruibe, a dead penguin sits on the sand at Peruibe beach in Sao Paulo state, Brazil. Hundreds of penguins that apparently starved to death are washing up on the beaches of Brazil, worrying scientists who are still investigating what's causing them to die.

SAO PAULO -- Hundreds of penguins that apparently starved to death are washing up on the beaches of Brazil, worrying scientists who are still investigating what's causing them to die.

About 500 of the black-and-white birds have been found just in the last 10 days on Peruibe, Praia Grande and Itanhaem beaches in Sao Paulo state, said Thiago do Nascimento, a biologist at the Peruibe Aquarium. Most were Magellan penguins migrating north from Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands in search of food in warmer waters. Many are not finding it: Autopsies done on several birds revealed their stomachs were entirely empty -- indicating they likely starved to death, Nascimento said.

Scientists are investigating whether strong currents and colder-than-normal waters have hurt populations of the species that make up the penguins' diet, or whether human activity may be playing a role.

"Overfishing may have made the fish and squid scarcer," Nascimento said.

Nascimento said it's common for penguins to swim north this time of year. Inevitably, some get lost along the way or die from hunger or exhaustion, and end up on the Brazilian coast far from home. But not in such numbers -- Nascimento said about 100 to 150 live penguins show up on the beach in an average year, and only 10 or so are dead.

"What worries us this year," he said, "is the absurdly high number of penguins that have appeared dead in a short period of time."


Sunday, July 25, 2010

3 Little Penguins Released from Taronga Zoo

6 July 2010
Three Little Penguins were released back into the wild today after receiving specialist veterinary care at Taronga’s Wildlife Hospital.

The trio of penguins were found on Eastern suburbs beaches with injuries and were thin, weak and vulnerable to attack from predators after coming ashore for their annual moult.  Thankfully Surf Life Savers and local residents at Bondi, Tamarama and Clovelly beaches came to the rescue and the birds were delivered into Taronga’s expert care.

Taronga’s Wildlife Hospital Manager, Libby Hall said: “During the moulting season Little Penguins will come out of the water to shed their old feathers and grow new ones. During this time they are not waterproof and so must spend a substantial amount of time on shore in a quiet, area free of humans and predators like dogs.”
“As you can imagine this is hard to find in Sydney, so Taronga Wildlife Hospital is often called upon to assist them through their moult and provide a safe haven.” said Libby.

Upon arrival at the Taronga Wildlife Hospital each Little Penguin was given a thorough veterinary examination including X-rays and blood tests by the Zoo’s veterinary team.  The birds had flipper injuries, were thin, weak and dehydrated.

“One of the penguins also had a flipper injury and its new feathers took sometime to grow back normally, but we are happy to say all the penguins are now fully waterproof and are  a healthy weight and ready and raring to go back to the ocean,” said Libby. 

With breeding season just around the corner the two adult males  are keen to get back to their nesting burrows.  One of the penguins is too young to breed this year but the other two are breeding males and play a vital role helping to prepare the nesting burrow and then assisting in  incubating the eggs and raising the penguin chicks. 

“Little Penguins are one of our most popular patients at the Wildlife Hospital because they all have very unique personalities , they are such characters. Although we will miss them, nothing beats watching them waddle down the beach without a backward glance and swim into the wild,” said Libby.

The penguin release comes just after primary school students from the Northern Beaches area took part in the annual Project Penguin education program at Taronga Zoo. The program aims to increase community awareness about the endangered Little Penguin colony near Manly which is threatened due to human encroachment, attacks by domestic pets, pollution and habitat loss. Student projects will be displayed in local businesses highlighting the importance of reducing pollution and maintaining vital breeding habitats along the coast.

Little Penguin Release 2 250

Taronga Wildlife Hospital treats about 35 Little Penguins each year. Taronga has an excellent record for rehabilitating sea birds and whilst looking after the penguins simultaneously cared for and release two Northern Giant Petrels, a Southern Giant Petrel and an endangered Yellowed-nosed Albatross which suffered due to the recent tumultuous weather conditions. 

Every year the hospital takes in over 1,000 sick, injured or orphaned native animals ranging from wombats hurt in road accidents, pelicans which have swallowed fish hooks, blue-tongue lizards which have done battle with a whipper snipper to possums which have been attacked by cats or dogs. The majority of these are rehabilitated and released into their natural habitat.

The Zoo's Great Southern Oceans exhibit features a breeding group of Little Penguins which can be seen through underwater viewing windows showing  their masterful aquatic skills as they plunge through the artifical current and wave surges.  The Zoo also has the world's only endangered Fiordland Crested Penguin from New Zealand in human care.


Sea World Penguins

Image of the Day

The Penguins of Dubai

Hot off the plane: Dubai's penguins

  • Last Updated: July 23. 2010
Oblivious to the desert heat outside, one of the penguins takes a dip in the tank in Dubai Mall.  
Photographs by Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Six Gentoo penguins have flown in to be star attractions at Dubai Mall’s Underwater Zoo. More used to Antarctic temperatures, they have their own snow-making machine and a steady supply of herring to make them feel at home. Tahira Yaqoob sees them settle in.

Their high-pitched singing might have gone unnoticed by the passengers of Emirates flight EK028, but when the plane landed it was clear there were some rather unusual VIPs on board.

Instead of pulling into the gate, the jet taxied directly to the Customs dock, where government officials and a police escort were waiting to greet the new arrivals.

The usually lengthy disembarkation process was speeded up to just 20 minutes as the six visitors had their papers stamped, were placed in a refrigerated truck to keep them cool in the 40°C heat and transported to their new home – Dubai Mall’s underwater zoo.

Feeding time for the Gentoo penguins. They are hand-fed herring and mackerel and the fish have to be presented head first.
But while they might walk on two feet, that is about all the Gentoo penguins had in common with the other passengers on the Glasgow to Dubai flight.

At the zoo, which forms part of Dubai Aquarium, special precautions had to be put in place before their arrival as they cannot stand temperatures above 15C and are used to living in particularly harsh cold climates.

“They are very susceptible to the outside environment so a lot of planning had to go into getting them here,” says Damien Prendergast, the manager of the zoo and aquarium.

“They came on a commercial flight but the timing was crucial because you can only move them at certain times of the year and they cannot be exposed to temperatures which are too high without getting stressed.”

The six sub-Antarctic birds, three male and three female, were packed into two wooden crates covered by chicken wire and loaded into the cargo hold along with passengers’ luggage.

Emirates officials lowered the temperature of the hold from a typical 15C to 7C to make the seven-hour journey more comfortable for the birds.

“The biggest issue once they landed and the doors opened was to get them to a refrigerated area as quickly as possible,” Prendergast says.

The penguins arrived at Dubai International Airport in the early hours of a June morning and were met by officials from the UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water, which looks after wildlife and ecosystems, as well as officers from Customs and Emirates Airline.

Prior to them being lifted out of the plane, their crates were covered with insulation as air-conditioning was blasted into the hold. They were then given a police escort as they were driven to the zoo.

Less than half an hour later, they moved into their new home, a 28-metre squared glass tank in the indoor zoo. Here the air is maintained at freezing temperatures with a machine producing real snow. There is also a small pool in which the penguins can take a dip in 10C water. Gentoos are the fastest-swimming penguins, reaching speeds of up to 36kph.

Children watch the penguins in their enclosure.
A resin roof with light shining through mimics the effect of sunshine hitting ice, while every morning, the enclosure is hosed down and filled with a 500kg batch of fresh snow.

The one-year-old birds, which are expected to start breeding next year once they are mature, are each hand-fed half a kilo of herring and mackerel three times a day. They are such fussy eaters that if the fish is not presented head first, they refuse to take it.

They were bred in captivity in Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, which has one of the largest colonies in the world with more than 120 birds and which dispatches them to zoos as far afield as Japan and New Zealand.

The zoo holds a genetic database of all Gentoos held in captivity in Europe and even operates a penguin cam monitoring their movements, as well as a penguin Jacuzzi and bubble-making machine to keep the birds entertained.

“We are not taking the birds from the natural environment. They are bred to live in captivity and could never be released into the wild,” says Prendergast.

“These are animals that the majority of people here have never seen and will never see. We include them in an educational programme on melting ice and global warming for children from pre-school age to secondary school. Hopefully we are helping to teach people about climate change and the importance of protecting their environment.”

The creatures, he says, are playful, friendly and immensely curious. They are also very vocal and sing loudly while searching for a partner.

Mature birds usually lay two eggs in April, which hatch after a 35-day incubation period, during which time the parents take it in turns to watch them. Newborns weigh about 85 grams, but within three months have grown to 5kg. The younger birds chase their parents around the nest to beg for food.

By the time they are two years old, males can weigh up to 8.6kg while females reach a maximum weight of 8.1kg. Gentoos are easily recognisable by the white stripe across their heads and are the third largest species after the Emperor and King penguins.

Next spring, nests will be introduced to the Dubai enclosure to encourage breeding. In the wild, these are made from a circular piles of stones, which are jealously guarded. A male penguin can curry favour with a female by offering her a particularly nice stone. Most mating penguins tend to seek out the same partner year after year.

In places like the Falklands, the penguins live on krill. They are hunted by sea lions, leopard seals and orca whales, while seabirds target the eggs and chicks.

The Gentoos, which have yet to be named, are the second set of penguins to be introduced to the zoo. Last year 15 South American Humboldt penguins were moved in. The Humboldts, which are usually found on the Pacific coast, were among the zoo’s first residents when it opened in November 2008. They have yet to start breeding but to encourage them, their keepers have installed nesting boxes into their enclosure, which is separate from the Gentoos. Prendergast says: “They have settled in very well and love interacting with their keeper and feeders, who have given them all names. We are hopeful they will start soon.”


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Image of the Day

Dortmund Zoo
Originally uploaded by stephanrudolph

This Week's Pencognito!
Come see Jen and all the Pengies HERE

Another Name That Penguin Contest

Essex sponsors naming contest for penguins at Turtle Back Zoo

Published: Jul 23rd, 7:09 AM
Essex County will hold a naming contest for two new African Penguins that recently arrived at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, 560 Northfield Ave., West Orange . Entries will be accepted until noon on Monday, July 26. The names will be announced on Thursday, July 29.

“Our penguins are one of the most popular attractions at Turtle Back Zoo. The addition of these two new animals will make the exhibit that much more exciting,” Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo said. “We are asking the public to share their ideas and help us name the two newest additions to our zoo family. We did a similar naming contest when we opened our ‘Bears in Your Backyard’ exhibit and people from around the world submitted suggestions. It just shows how beloved Turtle Back Zoo is.”

The two African Penguins were born in Denver and brought to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo through a penguin species survival and breeding program. They are currently acclimating to New Jersey in the zoo’s state of the art veterinary hospital prior to joining the other penguins. There are now eight penguins in the Penguin Coast exhibit, which opened in 2008. Funded with a donation from the Zoological Society of New Jersey, the exhibit re-creates the rocky, South African coast where the birds are found.  It also provides large windows for unobstructed viewing of the animals and a bigger pool for them to swim in.

Nomination forms are available at Turtle Back Zoo or on the county’s web site at Entrants must submit their name, e-mail address, mailing address and phone number. Children must have the permission of their parents or guardians to submit suggestions. Nomination forms or ideas for names can be mailed or delivered to Turtle Back Zoo, 560 Northfield Ave., West Orange, N.J. 07052 or by e-mail to Please write “Penguin Naming Contest” on the envelope or in the memo line of the e-mail. Those entering the contest have the option of making a $1 donation. Proceeds will be used to maintain the Penguin Coast exhibit.


TN Aquarium Update

Penguin Babies Grow Quickly

Boy oh Boy! Penguin babies sure grow quickly. The picture above is of the tiny, gentoo chick under its mother, Biscuit. That was on July 1st.

Here is the baby penguin today! It can't exactly fit under momma anymore. Although with its head tucked underneath Biscuit, the baby probably feels invisible to the rest of the world. Tennessee Aquarium visitors obviously have better viewing of this youngster now. Throughout the day you can observe the chick begging and being fed by the parents. He or she is also very vocal now and the tiny call is quite cute. When keepers take the chick behind the scenes for weigh-ins, the adorable little bird nuzzles up against the keepers. Take a look:

Video HERE at Source

Friday, July 23, 2010

Image of the Day

Yellow-eyed Penguin
Originally uploaded by Mike NZ
Yellow-eyed Penguin, Moeraki, New Zealand.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pet a penguin at Atlantis Marine World

Pet a penguin at Atlantis Marine World

Quick Summary

Pam and Kevin, two baby penguins, are a part of the new interactive experience at the aquarium in Riverhead, "Penguin Encounter."
Joe Yaiullo, right, holds fish
Photo credit: Ed Betz | Joe Yaiullo, right, holds fish to be fed to a penguin at Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead. (July 5, 2010)
Pam toddles over to Kevin and pecks him. She's jealous of the attention her 2-month-old baby brother is getting. Pam gets a time out for her juvenile behavior, and is deposited in a separate playpen by herself.
Welcome to the world of baby penguins. While Pam and Kevin are still technically considered "chicks" and were born the size of a man's palm, they're now old enough to waddle on their own and be part of a new interactive experience at the Atlantis Aquarium in Riverhead, called "Penguin Encounter."

Visitors who pay $50 each can spend 45 minutes with the newest penguins. The aquatic birds peck on children's sandals and shoelaces, nip at Mom's shorts, and let visitors pet their soft feathers. "It feels like a cat," says Erin Marsh of Rhode Island, who is visiting the aquarium with her daughter, McKenzie, 14, and McKenzie's friend Jillian, 13. "A stuffed animal," is McKenzie's assessment.

Atlantis has had South African penguins as part of the aquarium for quite some time, but this year marks the aquarium's first live penguin birth. About six months ago, Pam was born. And two months ago, she was joined by siblings Kevin and Angela, whose eggs hatched several days apart.

Visitors will learn these fun facts about penguins: Curators need to test a penguin's blood to determine its sex; there's no visible way to tell boy from girl. Penguins usually lay two eggs at a time, and it takes each egg 38 to 42 days to hatch. The South African penguins actually get cold during the Long Island winter and have hutches they can escape into to warm up.

The older generation of penguins at Atlantis is named after "Seinfeld" characters - George, for instance, is a sloppy eater and will eat fish from the floor. This new generation is named after characters from "The Office."
Kevin is lovable and mushy, says Joseph Yaiullo, curator and co-founder of the aquarium. Pam is sweet but with an edge to her. Angela is nervous and nippy.

Michael Anderson, 10, spends several minutes petting Kevin, while Kevin squeals and pecks at the bottom of Michael's shorts. "They were much more playful than I expected," Michael says.

"I want one," Jillian says. "I was actually thinking in my head if you could have a penguin as a pet."

Penguin EncounterAtlantis Marine World, 431 E. Main St., Riverhead, 631-208-9200, ext. 426,

Hours: Daily at 11 a.m., 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.

Price: $50 a person

And try 'Aquarium Idol'
The Penguin Encounter isn't the only new entertainment at Atlantis this year. "Aquarium Idol" pits a sea lion contestant against an aquarium staff member dressed as Sue Perstar (Get it? Say the name fast: Superstar). At the end of the 15-minute show, the audience votes by applause for the better song-and-dance performance.

Hours: Daily at 10:45 a.m. and 12:45, 2:30 and 4 p.m.

Price: Included in aquarium admission of $21.50 for adults; $18.50 for children ages 3 to 17 and seniors ages 62 and older. Children younger than 3 are free. (Atlantis is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. In honor of that, if you visit the aquarium during your birthday week now through June 14, 2011, you get in free.)