Jinjing, native to chilly Patagonia, keeps returning to a widower on a warm Brazil beach
A Magellanic penguin that migrates
from Patagonia and a retired bricklayer in a Brazilian fishing village
have struck up an unusual friendship. Photo: Paul Kiernan/The Wall
By Paul Kiernan
Oct. 22, 2015
PROVETÁ, Brazil—On a steamy tropical island in Brazil, a tuxedoed traveler found a soul mate.
else would a penguin named Jinjing, native to chilly Patagonia roughly
2,000 miles away, keep returning to a warm stretch of sand in Rio de
Janeiro state during mating season?
João Pereira de Souza, a retired bricklayer, has shared his homestead and sardine supply for four years with the seabird.
penguin disappears into the sea for days—sometimes months—only to
return to the spot where Mr. de Souza raises chickens by the beach in
this remote fishing village of 1,300 residents on the island of Ilha
During the bird’s visits, the two go for long walks on the beach, swim together in the surf and converse in pidgin penguinese.
“When he returns he’s so happy to see me,” Mr. de Souza says, “he comes up to my neck and hoots.”
de Souza, a 71-year-old widower, says the visits started March 20,
2011, when he discovered the bird oil-soaked, lying on the beach by his
He moved the ailing avian under his shade tree, force-fed it fish and took it to the water’s edge, expecting it to swim away.
took a drink of water and then came back onto the beach. So I gave him
three more sardines and that was it: He never left me again,” Mr. de
Souza says on a recent afternoon as Jinjing nibbles affectionately at
He looks down: “Isn’t that right, Jinjing?”
name is a term of endearment in parts of Brazil, and the bird is a
local favorite. “He’s the village mascot,” says Carlos Eduardo Arantes,
the community administrator.
“It spends 10, 12, 15 days away and
then comes back to the same house,” says Mário Castro, a fisherman who,
like most Provetá residents, is well-versed in Jinjing’s story. “It’s an
incredible thing, huh?”
The penguin typically leaves for longer
in February, returning in June. Mr. de Souza says he guessed it was male
and assumed it swam to Argentina to “line up a girlfriend” for
The beach village of Provetá, in southeastern Brazil, where Jinjing the penguin washed ashore in 2011.
Penguin experts say Jinjing’s heart probably desires more than the free fish from Mr. de Souza.
penguins like Jinjing are known for migrating thousands of miles
between Patagonia breeding colonies and feeding grounds farther north.
They typically mate in September, lay eggs, then rear chicks between
December and February.
“It’s all theoretical. I mean, who knows
what goes on in the mind of a lone penguin,” says Dyan deNapoli, a
veterinary nurse who used to take care of penguins at Boston’s New
England Aquarium and has a website called The Penguin Lady.
Jinjing visits Mr. de Souza’s during breeding season, she says, “it’s
possible that he has redirected his natural instinct to mate toward this
guy.” The nibbling is “allopreening,” she says, a courtship behavior
among certain birds.
Another hint at Jinjing’s designs on his
caretaker: “He’s jealous for me,” Mr. de Souza says as the penguin eyes a
visiting reporter with unambiguous suspicion. “He doesn’t let any dog
or cat near me or else he goes after them and pecks.”
neighborhood dog approaches a few minutes later, Jinjing lunges, beak
agape and flippers flaring. The pooch skedaddles. Protectiveness of
mates is common as the birds drive off competitors, Ms. deNapoli says.
de Souza played hard-to-get shortly after Jinjing first arrived,
putting it on a boat headed to a different beach. The captain tossed it
overboard miles away.
Jinjing beat the boat back.
“I never saw a critter get so attached,” Mr. de Souza says. “You can let him go wherever you want, but he’ll come right back.”
During visits, Jinjing stays outside in a special enclosure, otherwise following Mr. de Souza around much of the time.
man addresses the bird in a high-pitched voice. He says the penguin’s
call to him, an extended honk, sounds like his own first name:
When Mr. de Souza strolls the beach with his feathered
friend, they sometimes walk on the sand together, or Jinjing swims
Occasionally, Jinjing gets in the water and calls out
to him, says Mr. de Souza’s daughter. When Mr. de Souza gets in for a
swim, she says, Jinjing excitedly circles him.
reputation as cold-water animals, penguins aren’t unheard of in Brazil,
where northbound currents occasionally deposit them, weak and hungry.
Overfishing and climate change may be driving them farther into the
tropics, some scientists say.
A team of Magellanic-penguin
researchers at the University of Washington, reviewing Jinjing’s photo,
say he looks like a young male and his behavior sounds consistent with
male breeding patterns.
“If a female is not successful at laying
eggs with one mate, she’ll leave him,” says Caroline Cappello, one of
the researchers. “The males sort of just try to get any lady they can.”
Cappello says Jinjing’s behavior reminds her of a male Magellanic
penguin near her team’s Argentina field site, which grew fond of the
researchers more than a decade ago and hasn’t found a mate since.
morning when we go down to get our gear out, he comes waddling out from
his nest and says hi,” she says. “I don’t know what he thinks is going
Jinjing has won celebrity through local television
broadcasts. Fishermen give Mr. de Souza sardines when he goes to the
nearest city for his social-security check.
Magellanic penguins live roughly 20 years on average, so the friendship may last a while.
de Souza’s daughter, Mery Alves de Souza, says he fusses so much over
Jinjing that it is hard to persuade him to visit his real children in
Rio de Janeiro, six hours away.
In June, he planned to stay in
Rio a week but returned home after two days, fearing Jinjing wouldn’t
get enough to eat. “We call him and tell him to come visit and he says,
‘OK, OK,’ ” she says. “But then he doesn’t.”
The Penguin Camera is located on Torgersen Island (64°46’S, 64°04’W), off the coast of Anvers Island and less than a mile from Palmer Station. Torgersen Island is home to a colony of Adélie penguins numbering approximately 2,500. This camera is seasonal and operates primarily from October to February, the Adélie breeding season. The camera is solar-powered and may sometimes experience brief outages due to inclement weather. School classrooms and other educational demonstrations will often take control of the camera, moving it to gain better views of the colony.
A lifelong student and confirmed polymath, I am currently writing my 2nd book this spring. I have an AS in Biology, a BA and an MA in English, plus I began a degree in Geology while living in CA. I am a retired herpetologist, but my blogs and current interests strive to promote animal conservation, particularly Penguins,Wolves, and Big Cats. I live with the loves of my life, Sissy, a Chihuahua, and Joey, Alero, Jillian, Loki, Jadin, Perse, Socks and Siggy - my ThunderCats - who help me cope with narcolepsy.