From the Vet Desk: Penguin Procedure

Zookeepers’ and aquarists’ jobs go far beyond feeding and cleaning up after animals. Our amazing team of professionals know their charges intimately and keep a very close eye on each and every one of the animals they care for. By familiarizing themselves with each animal’s tendencies and behaviors, our team is more likely to notice when something is wrong before it becomes a serious issue. Such was the case recently with Tux, one of our female African penguins.

Several weeks ago, keepers noticed that Tux wasn’t eating regularly. At the time, she was fostering chicks, so our team thought that a possible explanation. However, as the abnormal behavior continued, they began to grow concerned.

Our birds have been trained to take food directly from our keepers’ hands, but Tux is one of the few birds in the colony that will pick up a dropped fish and eat it. Because of her ability to do so, keepers suspected she may have picked up and ingested a foreign body by mistake. They discussed their concerns with our veterinary team, who then performed an examination to attempt to identify the problem. However, the bloodwork and radiograph results from the exam yielded no conclusive results.

As a precautionary measure, our animal care team decided further examination was in order. Enter Dr. Dan Johnson from Avian and Exotic Animal Care and Dr. Rik Wyatt from Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care, both located in Raleigh. These experts came out with a specialized scope to examine the path from Tux’s esophagus all the way to her stomach to ensure no blockage was present.

Check out these photos of the procedure:

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A scope inserted in Tux’s throat allows the animal care team to see the entire path from mouth to stomach.

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The scope shows clear pathways.

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Tux’s heart rate is monitored throughout the procedure.

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Tux’s primary keeper, Shannon, is on hand as the bird comes out of anesthesia.

We are pleased to report that Tux is doing well after her exam, and her eating habits are back to normal. We’re grateful to our animal care team for moving so quickly to address a potential health concern, as well as to Dr. Dan and his team for providing a scope and extra assistance during this procedure!

Sustainable Seafood Sustains Penguins Too

By Alison Manka, School and SciQuarium Programs Manager

A few weeks ago, we welcomed, Pat, the newest African penguin chick to the Greensboro Science Center’s African penguin colony. This special girl spent her first months of life gulping down enormous quantities of fish, first from her parents, then from her keepers. In a mere three months, she grew from a scant 63 grams (about the weight of a C battery) to well over 2,600 grams (over five and a half pounds). This rapid growth in our penguin as well as wild penguin chicks is attributable to the steady and regular supply of fish. Unfortunately, not all wild penguin chicks are as lucky and satiated as Pat.

penguin chickMany wild African penguin parents struggle to feed their chicks. African penguins feed mainly on small schooling fish such as sardines, anchovies, and herring. Adults will travel great distances in search of these schooling fish which follow nutrient rich offshore currents. These fish-rich currents are moving farther and farther off shore as water temperature increases. As a result, penguins are forced to travel longer and farther in search of fish running the gauntlet of oil spills, discarded fishing gear, and natural predators. When the penguins finally reach the fishing grounds, there are far fewer fish to be found. The fish penguins need to survive are being harvested for human consumption at an unsustainable rate.

Seafood WatchThis sounds like a problem too big and too distant for us living half a world away to do anything about. What can we do about fishing around Africa? As it turns out, there is something that each and every one of us can do, it doesn’t cost a dime and will help penguins as well as all other aquatic animals. All we need to do to help is make sure any seafood we consume, whether from a grocer or a restaurant, is being sustainably harvested. The Greensboro Science Center is proud to be a member of Seafood Watch, a sustainable seafood resource created by the Monterey Bay Aquarium that works with government agencies, scientists, and fisheries to recommend which seafood is a best choice, a good alternative, and which to avoid. They provide this information free of charge in a pocket sized Seafood Watch guide or the free app available for iOS and Android devices. Pocket guides are available for the Southeast Region, Sushi, and in Spanish at the Greensboro Science Center. Feel free to pick up a few extra to pass out to friends.

Selecting sustainably harvested seafood is a wonderful way to help aquatic animals including penguins in the long term, but want to do more? You can help by running, walking, or waddling with us in our annual Tuxedo Trot: Run for the Penguins. This 5K race and 1K Kids Fun Run, held on May 21st 2016, benefits SANCCOB, a wonderful non-profit in South Africa that rescues abandoned chicks, helps oiled birds, raises awareness, and works on conservation efforts. 100% of the race’s proceeds will go directly to SANCCOB. This year, with your help, we are striving to raise over $20,000 for SANCCOB to aid their efforts to save the endangered African penguin.

Please help all of Pat’s wild penguin cousins by choosing sustainably harvested seafood and joining us May 21st to run, walk, or waddle in the Greensboro Science Center’s Tuxedo Trot: Run for the Penguins to support SANCCOB. Sustainable seafood sustains penguins too!

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We’re not sick, we’re molting!

All birds molt, or lose feathers, on a yearly basis. Some birds molt a few feathers at a time, while other birds, such as penguins, molt all of their feathers at once. The total process generally lasts between 4-6 weeks.

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Comparative view: The penguin on the right is in the process of molting.

Imagine having the same sweater on for one whole year…during this time, it might become worn out and need to be replaced. This is essentially how penguins’ feathers work. Their feathers become worn out and broken over the course of the year and it is necessary for a new set of feathers to replace the old set.

There are 3 stages to molt:

  1. Pre-molt
  2. Dropping feathers
  3. Gaining weight back

1. For several weeks leading up to molt, penguins begin gorging themselves with fish. Generally, a penguin will eat approximately 1lb of fish each day. Leading up to their molt, a penguin can eat up to 40% of their body weight daily. These extra calories allow new feathers to be produced under their skin. A penguin usually weighs 7-8lbs, but after bulking up pre-molt, they can weigh up to 11lbs.

2. Once the penguin has reached their maximum weight, they begin to drop feathers. This process generally lasts 1-2 weeks. During this time, the animal is fasting (not eating) and allowing all the feathers to drop off its body while the new feathers come through. They must remain on land during this process due to their lack of waterproofing. They live off their body fat stored from the previous weeks.

Molting Penguin

Molting Penguin

3. The last part of the process, which entails the penguin’s body recovering, lasts another 1-2 weeks. During this time, they gain waterproofing once again on their feathers and begin hunting fish to regain all the weight lost.

Molting generally happens once a year at approximately the same time for each bird (typically between April-Aug). So the next time you see one of us looking a little puffy and uncomfortable, don’t worry, we are just updating our wardrobe. Soon we will be ready to show off our new sleek, shiny new coat of feathers.