Monday, March 31, 2014

New Living Planet Aquarium features prominent penguin museum

15 hours ago  • 

A chorus of distinct honks reverberates in the room as Danielle Angel, a keeper at the Loveland Living Aquarium, greets her 11 Gentoo penguins. "It's like they're my friends, my little friends," Angel said. "They can't talk back to me, but we have a relationship."

Angel works full time on the Animal Husbandry staff at the new location of the Living Planet Aquarium, now titled the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, located just on the other side of the Utah County line in Draper. The new building took two years to build from the ground up, and the new aquarium, now the ninth-largest aquarium in the nation, opened on March 25.

 The new location features a rotating exhibit, a theater, event facilities and more than a million gallons of water. "It's really exciting, all of our exhibits are just so much bigger. So that makes me really happy for our animals," Angel said.

The new aquarium has a larger, more prominent penguin exhibit, themed like a research facility. The exhibit features the same birds and has a 63,000-gallon tank with two viewing areas for guests.
On the upper level, guests can watch the penguins feed, dive in and out of the pool, and nest together during mating season, which typically happens in the late-spring. The exhibit's lower level has a large, curved glass panel that lets guests watch the penguins swim and dive in and out of the water
Taking care of the penguins alone is nearly a full-time job, and Angel, along with three other full-time keepers and a handful of volunteers, also care for the rest of aquarium's endotherms, or warm-blooded animals. Angel keeps an eye on several pair of ducks, and some free-flying birds in the South American exhibit, but mainly splits her time between the Gentoo Penguins and the North American River Otters.

Angel spends so much time with the birds that she can now identify each of the 11 sub-Antarctic birds, their personalities and their habits. "We have Ghost-Rider who is sort of our bully of the group," Angel said. "He likes to make you hurry up when it's feeding time by biting you in the shin and he'll push the other penguins in the pool."

On the other end of the spectrum from Ghost-Rider, one of the aquarium's largest penguins, Gossamer, is shy and gentle. "He never pushes and shoves no matter how hungry he is and he waits his turn patiently," Angel said. "His mate is one of our smaller penguins and she sort of pushes him around during breeding season, it's pretty cute watching them together."

Though Angel has developed a close relationship with the penguins, she said she doesn't have quite the same relationship with the otters. "They are pretty much teenage boys, off on their own and very independent," Angel said.

Karli Healy, a past intern at the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, recently became staff in Animal Husbandry at the aquarium during the move from location to location. She's had the same experience getting to know the animals' personalities in her short time as a keeper. She splits her time between freshwater fish and the endotherms with Angel. "I've gotten to know more fish better, as weird as that sounds," Healy said with a laugh. "This one will eat really well and you can tell when he's hungry, and this one is a little more shy and will hide in the corner."

The two keepers have a packed routine caring for the animals, beginning at 8 a.m. every morning.  First, they do a walk-through to make sure the animals look healthy, are in their proper spots, and are ready for the day. Next, they check all the support systems, like the filters for the penguins' salt water tank. Around 9 a.m. the keepers begin the first cleaning of the day, which usually involves scrubbing the ducks' land enclosures.

Next are the otters, which have to be contained to different parts of their enclosure while their habitat is sprayed, cleaned and wiped down. The complicated process lasts about an hour, finishing with some fish scattered around for their first meal.

Finally, the penguins' habitat is scrubbed, cleaned and rinsed. A bucket of Capelin, a type of small fish, is brought in. One fish, with a vitamin inserted in its gills, is given to each penguin and the keeper has to keep track of who got one and who didn't in a mass of flapping, wrestling and honking. After the birds are hand fed a bit of fish, the first of two feedings is over.

Many hours a day are spent in the food preparation room. Fish need to be thawed, rinsed, and organized every day for the next day's feedings. The keepers precisely inspect every fish as they are placed in a bucket, to ensure no fish that could harm the birds, such as poisonous puffer fish, made it into the catch. The penguins are picky, and if a fish is broken, or less than perfect, it is tossed in a bucket for the otters.

The Gentoos will usually eat 10 percent of their body weight a day, about a pound and a half. In certain months before molting, they'll even eat up to 30 percent. This adds up to much more time spent preparing the food than spending time with the animals.

However, both Angel and Healy agree the work is worth it. "It's great just taking care of the animals, and that in itself is rewarding, but seeing other people appreciate them as much as you do is really fulfilling," Angel said about seeing people light up as they roamed the new facilities. "Its really cool to be able to really understand the animals and feel like they understand you, at least a small amount," Healy said.


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