National Zoo Keeper Week 2018

This week is National Zoo Keeper Week. Even though we don’t have “Zoo Keepers,” our Biologists give exemplary care to the animals that live here at Newport Aquarium. Follow us throughout this week to see what our biologists do every day! #NZKW

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Mission: To recognize and promote dedicated zoo and aquarium professionals year round, culminating in an annual celebration during the third week in July – National Zoo Keeper Week.

Newport Aquarium has twelve biologists that care for all of the fish, reptiles, amphibians, and penguins that have their home here. Care for these animals is more than just simply feeding and giving the animals some attention. They also have a lot of cleaning, food preparation, and maintenance work to do! #NZKW

Training is an important part of the care of many of our animals here at Newport Aquarium. Animals like Mighty Mike and our Sharkrays are target trained. This means that they know to come to a target pole to get their food. This helps the biologists safely work with these animals and ensures that every one of them gets the food they need.

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Kelly and Erin target feed Mighty Mike, our 14-foot long, 800-pound alligator.

Our biologists give animals enrichment. Enrichment can be anything from a new object in their space, changing around their furniture, a new scent, sounds of their wild cousins, or a new food item. Our biologists use enrichment all of the time to stimulate our animal’s minds, keep them active, and help our animals engage in natural behaviors.

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Kristen celebrated Dr. Seuss Day by reading to the penguins.

There are many types of animals at the aquarium, which leads to many types of biologists who care for them. We have biologists who prefer work with the big sharks and those that work with the tiny dwarf seahorses. We have biologists who prefer to work with penguins and those that would rather work with frogs. But whatever our biologists do, they always work as a team to make sure the animals get the best care possible!

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Tamara is one of our resident penguin biologists. Her main job is taking care of our African Penguins. Tamara also works with our outreach reptiles.  Tamara says, “My favorite part of my job is learning the different personalities of all of the animals I work with!”

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Scott feeds Shark Central in the morning. The sharks like to eat squid.

Scott is a jack of all trades. He is an aquarist, a plumber, and one of the local news station’s favorite interviewees. Scott did our first Takeover Tuesday blog post. One of his favorite tanks to work with is our shark touch tank, Shark Central. “I love working with Shark Central because it has sharks from all over the world.”

IMG_3652 (2)Erin works with our reptile and amphibian collection. We featured Erin in A Day in the Life of a Herpetologist. While she is in charge of the care of our alligators and venomous reptiles, there is a special place in her heart for the frogs of Frog Bog. “Frogs are incredible animals. The way they change from their fish lifestyle as a tadpole to becoming a frog has always fascinated me!” #NZKW

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Kristen is one of our new biologists. She was first featured in our Animal Experience Specialist Takeover Tuesday. Because of this, she helps take care of a little bit of everything. “I love that I get to take care of many different kinds of animals. It helps to make every day interesting!”

Rob cleaning coral (2)Rob takes care of our live coral tanks. He also helps out in our Seahorse Gallery with the Ribbon Dragons and Dwarf Seahorses. “I love corals because they are colorful, challenging, and confusing to many people. They are a reminder to everyone that the health of our oceans is very important.”
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Ty has a passion for the invertebrates at Newport Aquarium. He leads team in the care for Simon the Octopus and the Jellyfish. “My favorite part of working with jellyfish is the culturing and propagation.” Learn more about Ty in his Takeover Tuesday: World of the Octopus Edition.

Health care is always on the mind of a good biologist. Daily observation of the animals helps to spot a problem before it starts. And if the need arises, our biologists work closely with our Vet Team to address any issue.

Our biologists realize that there is more to their work than simply taking care of the animals right in front of them. Conservation is a vital consideration at any aquarium. We at Newport Aquarium play our part as well. Our biologists have taken part in such projects as freshwater mussel studies here in Kentucky and sea turtle headstart programs in North Carolina.

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Kelly target trains the caiman lizard.

Kelly helps our reptiles live a happy, healthy life. She knows that training helps the animals get better care and helps to stimulate their minds. She is currently working to train many of our reptiles, including Nester, our caiman lizard. “I feel proud of Nester when he targets correctly. It is very satisfying.”

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Jen is with one of our shark rays in the acclimation pool.

Jen is an aquarist who works with all of our tunnel systems. This includes her favorite tank, Surrounded by Sharks. She says her favorite part of her job is “definitely the incredible animals she gets to work with!”

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Michelle hand feeds the stingrays in our stingray touch pool.

Michelle spends much of her day caring for our stingrays in Stingray Hideaway, and was featured in a special Takeover Tuesday all about Stingray Hideaway. Because stingrays are so intelligent and curious, she also makes sure they get the enrichment they need to live a stimulating and happy life. “Each stingray interacts with the enrichment in a different way. I love to watch the way each one expresses her own quirks when I give a new enrichment item.”

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Introducing Victoria to her “snow spa” behind the scenes. It helped her stay cool during her molting process.

Dan is our senior penguin biologist. He spends most of his day cleaning and caring for our cold weather penguins in Penguin Palooza. He’s taking care of Victoria the penguin. He says his favorite part of his job is penguin breeding. “It is challenging to breed them. I get one shot a year and if it doesn’t work, I have to try and figure out why.” Dan also wrote a Takeover Tuesday for World Penguin Day.

Feeding Starfish PictureMargaret is an aquarist who works with a variety of saltwater fish. She was featured in a special Tide Pool edition of Takeover Tuesday. She gives her time and talent to the animals that live in our Shore Gallery. “I am currently target training the Snowflake Eels and Trumpet Fish. It is cool to watch them learn and engage with me.”

IMG_1730 (2)Laurel works closely with our quarantine animals and those that live at our offsite animal health facility. She and the vet team are the first people that our animals encounter before they make their way to the exhibits here at Newport Aquarium. “The best part of this job is bringing animals to people who may never get to see them otherwise. It makes an impact on these people and helps them become more aware of the world and conservation needs.”

Thank you for following along and learning more about our talented team of animal care takers. Next time you see one of them,. #ThankAKeeper

 

 

 

End of an Era – Ric Urban’s Return to the South

All of us at Newport Aquarium want to wish Ric Urban a fond farewell! After spending the past 14 years with us here at Newport Aquarium, sharing the wonders of wildlife and saving wild spaces, Ric is about to embark on his next chapter – and he’s returning to the south!

Ric Urban

Ric has left a legacy a thousand times over, giving people a greater appreciation for wildlife and wild places. – Eric Rose, Executive Director at Newport Aquarium 

Ric has more than 35 years of experience working in AZA-accredited institutions. He joined us at Newport Aquarium in 2004 as Curator of Birds and Mammals. During that time, he increased the aquarium’s penguin collection from two species to six by hand-raising several birds. He also helped bring American alligator, Mighty Mike, and albino alligators, Snowball and Snowflake, to the facility. While Ric’s role and title may have changed over the past 14 years, his dedication to conservation never disappeared.

 

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He has been responsible for developing partnerships that promote in-house and off-site conservation programs involving animals and ecosystems, as well as promoting the aquarium’s conservation efforts. Ric is active in the community as a member of Banklick Watershed Council, Sanitation District No. 1, the annual Ohio River Sweep, Reforest Northern Kentucky, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association Lock-up.

From transforming the Tri-State’s water shed and landscape, to protecting local species, Ric Urban has inspired the conservationist in all of us.

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“I always tell people that while I am living and breathing I don’t want these African penguins to be extinct, we’re not going to let that happen.” – Ric Urban

Our community is a better place because Ric lived here and spent nearly every waking moment of those 14 years inspiring others to care for the planet and its animals the way that he does. He showed us we can make a difference, that small conservation efforts add up to big ones, and that our environment is worth caring about. We’re going to miss him- and if you’ve ever met him you know there are too many reasons why to list.

My favorite conversations that Ric had with so many people went something like this.

Person: Oh, I’ve never seen a __________ (insert any animal) in-person before.

Ric: Yes, it is quite beautiful isn’t it?

Person: Definitely. Can I touch it? Will it bite?

Ric: Well, everything with teeth will bite if it feels threatened…but generally not.

                                                                                                                                –Chad Showalter

There are so many stories that I could tell about Ric Urban. He was not only the man who first hired me at the Newport Aquarium in 2011, but he quickly became my mentor. Later down the road he became my travel partner, conservation adviser and friend. I have seen first-hand the impacts he has had on summer-camp kids, volunteers of all ages, his own daughter and me.

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Ric and Alle traveled to Peru in 2012 to help protect endangered seabirds, including penguins.

One of my favorite stories was traveling with him to Peru for the Humboldt Penguin Guano Harvest in 2012. He had just undergone shoulder surgery, but still thought it would be a great idea to army crawl into a guano-filled penguin nest with one of our hosts. Why not!

If you get the chance, be sure to ask him about the “bear in the bathroom” story. It is one of my favorites! Ric truly is one-of-a-kind and will be missed greatly, but I know he will make a positive impact in Gulfport. Cheers! – Alle Barber

Ric is described by his colleagues as talented and good-natured, helping him to become quite the television and public personality. You might have seen him on Living Dayton with Nagini our red-tailed boa, or on WLWT talking to Randi Rico about Bindi the Blue-Tongued Skink and Oreo our Argentine Black & White Tegu, or sharing important conservation messages about African penguins while visiting every local and regional television station, as well as a Cincinnati Reds baseball game with Paula the African penguin, an important ambassador for her species. Ric often tells people, “When you get a chance to be close to nature and touch the animals, you begin to feel a personal connection with that animal. It’s a connection with nature, a connection with conservation.”

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Ric has made it his life’s mission to protect African penguins, an endangered species threatened by increasing competition from commercial fisheries for food and harmful crude oil spills. Ric is the Project Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Project. He also holds a seat on the AZA African Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP), Penguin Taxon Advisory Group (TAG), and is a member of the AZA’s Animal Welfare Committee. “I always tell people that while I am living and breathing I don’t want these African penguins to be extinct, we’re not going to let that happen,” said Ric.

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Thursday afternoon, Newport Aquarium cast members came together to share a final farewell. Reflecting upon these last 14 years, the positive relationships he has made and the legacy he will leave behind, Ric left us with these final words, “don’t be sad that it’s over, be glad that it happened.”

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Ric’s new adventure will be at the Mississippi Aquarium as their Director of Husbandry & Conservation.

See ya later, Ric!

Takeover Tuesday: The Guest Experience

Takeover Tuesday features a “day in the life” of biologists, and exhibits staff at Newport Aquarium. Be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Hello, my name is Greg Moore, I’m a Guest Experience Supervisor here at Newport Aquarium, and I’m taking over your Tuesday!

Greg with baby gator

Baby alligator, Willard, is one of the ambassador animals at Newport Aquarium. Guests have an opportunity to meet an ambassador animal, during a daily Animal Outreach in the Stingray Hideaway lobby.

As a Guest Experience Supervisor, my focus is making sure guests have the most memorable experience, and create memories worth repeating! At the Tide Pool, guests can touch amazing creatures including sea stars, horseshoe crabs and anemones.

At Newport Aquarium, guests can Sea, Touch, and Explore… Together!

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Throughout the day, our team is stationed throughout the aquarium, to welcome guests, answer questions, and teach you about the amazing animals you’ll meet.

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Denver the loggerhead sea turtle joined our morning meeting. He welcomes guests to Shark Ray Bay Theater, and often likes to hang out in that window.

I love leading the team.  It can be a stressful job, but so rewarding.  All the jobs my team does, I also will do at any given day.  In the morning, we’ll have a team clean all the acrylic throughout the aquarium, to get rid of any smudges or salt residue.  Cleaning the penguin window is the best, because they’re so active in the morning and sometimes follow the pole.

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Some of the King penguins go for a morning swim in Penguin Palooza.

Interacting with guests, especially kids, is one of my favorite things.  To see a child’s excitement as they get to walk four feet above the shark tank, touch a shark for the first time, or even learn something new about these beautiful animals and what we can do to keep them around for future generations, is the highlight of my day!

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A diver poses while in the Amazon tank.

When I was a kid, my all-time beloved animals were the penguins. So naturally, my favorite part of working at Newport Aquarium is working with the African Penguins.

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When guests visit Newport Aquarium, they can purchase a Penguin Encounter and get up close and personal with these adorable birds. 

When a guest is surprised by how they feel, about their crazy characteristics, how their population is declining, makes me proud to be a part of that. African penguins are an endangered species. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums launched the Invest in The Nest campaign to help save these endangered penguins in the wild.

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So, when you come to the aquarium, I may be helping you touch a shark, teaching you about our sea turtle, or showing you some penguins. Hope to see you soon!

Plan your visit to Newport Aquarium: Things To Do, Visitor Tips, Additional Experiences, Penguin Encounters, Aquarium Activities, Shows and Feeds.

#Takeover Tuesday

African Penguin Awareness Days Oct. 8 – 16 at Newport Aquarium

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer

Newport Aquarium is celebrating African Penguin Awareness Week October 8th  through October 16th. On Saturday, October 8th we are kicking off African Penguin Awareness Day with an entire week focused on African Penguins. During this week, we want to tell the story of the African Penguins and what the WAVE Foundation and the Newport Aquarium are doing to prevent the species from moving closer to extinction. From Saturday October 8th-Sunday October 16th we are donating every “Dollar for Conservation” that we get to SANCCOB’s disaster relief and chick-rearing efforts.

African penguins

Over the past decade there has been a dramatic drop in the population for African Penguins. In 2006, there was estimated to be over 100,000 African Penguins in South Africa. Today it is estimated to be less than 50,000 birds in Namibia and South Africa.

Why have numbers dropped so drastically?  The answer is not very simple since there are several different levels of influence on the population.  But two areas to focus would be competition for food with the fishing industry and the oil industry.

Competition For Food
The Benguela marine ecosystem is one of the richest in sardines and anchovies in the world and located off the coast of South Africa and the breeding colonies of the African Penguins.  This is a main food choice for African Penguins.  However, there is competition for food for the African Penguins; this area is also heavily fished by commercial fisheries. The competition with the fisheries and warming sea waters, forces the birds to travel further out to sea to catch fish in order to feed the chicks on the nest.

The additional travel for the adult birds only compounds the situations, expending more energy requires more food for them and their chicks. This means more time in the ocean, and the threat of predators, both at sea and on land.  At sea, the adults can fall prey to Cape fur seals and sharks.  On land, the chicks and eggs can be eaten by Kelp Gulls and small carnivores that have access to mainland colonies.

The Oil Industry
The oil industry has just increased their goals for production and the construction of more oil rigs in the region.  In 2000, the MV Treasure sank in Table Bay, South Africa.  This event caused the oiling of over 19,000 African Penguins.  Crude oil is dangerous for the penguins; it breaks down the natural water-proofing of the birds while at sea.  The oil causes them to become water-logged, hypothermic, disoriented and sometimes not able to make it back to shore.  Once on shore, the penguins will begin to preen themselves; ingesting the oil, becoming ill and potentially dying if not helped.  Rescuing oiled African penguins is a regular occurrence in South Africa.
Making A Difference
The WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium promotes and raises funds to support SANCCOB (The South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) in Cape Town.  SANCCOB rescues, rehabilitates and releases approximately 1,000 African Penguins a year affected by oil.  The staff and volunteers of SANCCOB dedicate themselves every day to the African Penguins and other sea birds.  They need our support.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) initiated a program in 2015 called SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction); targeting 10 endangered species around the world.  Collaborative Conservation will identify and prioritize the needs of a species and build a 3-year Conservation Action Plan (CAP).

Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium, was appointed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to be the Program Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Project.

Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium, was appointed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to be the Program Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Project.

The Newport Aquarium is playing an integral part of this conservation plan.  Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT) Tags are being used as part of the Individual Identification Project that the Newport Aquarium is responsible for coordinating.  A collaboration of AZA Partners – The Racine Zoo, Northeastern Zoo of Wisconsin, the Maryland Zoo, Sea World and the WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium as well as our South African Partners are working together to individually identify 10% of the world’s population of African Penguins over the next 3 years. PIT Tagging will allow biologists to assess longevity and survival, nest site, natal site and mate fidelity, inter-colony movement, and many other metrics that will be helpful to management of the species.

Now is the time to Act – you can make a difference during African Penguin Awareness Week.  Everyone can contribute to the conservation of African Penguins by visiting the Newport Aquarium.  By visiting the Newport Aquarium Gift Shop, you can make a contribution to “Dollars to Conservation” when you purchase anything in the store, or you can just make a donation at the desk.  All the proceeds during this week to “Dollars for Conservation” will go directly to support SANCCOB and the rescue, rehabilitation and release of African Penguins.

The African Penguin is an endangered species, threatened with extinction that needs our help.  You can learn more about how to contribute by visiting, www.wavefoundation.org or www.AZASavingSpecies.org

Saving penguins in South Africa

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer

Our AZA African Penguin Tagging Team moves from the mainland to Robben Island. They’re spending 12 days in South Africa, tagging penguins and gathering data on Africa’s endangered penguins. The team includes Mike McClure from Maryland Zoo and Kylene Plemons from Sea World San Diego. Over the 12 days, the team is visiting a couple of penguin rescue and rehabilitation facilities as well as collecting data in three penguin colonies; the Robben Island colony, the Boulder’s Beach colony and the Stony Point colony.

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Experts from SeaWorld and the Maryland Zoo traveled to South Africa to work alongside the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in an effort to help tag the endangered African penguin. The trip is part of the SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction African Penguin Conservation Action Plan. Since the early 1900’s the population of African penguins in the wild has dropped by a staggering 97%.

Robben Island
After a couple days of orientation and training at SANCCOB, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team headed out to stay with the colony on Robben Island. Robben Island was once the site of the prison which held Nelson Mandela and once a thriving population of African penguins.  With the introduction of invasive species and introduced species such as house cats and rabbits, the penguin population has plummeted to approximately 3,000 birds.

Logging field work

Experts from SeaWorld and the Maryland Zoo traveled to South Africa to work alongside the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in an effort to help tag the endangered African penguin. The trip is part of the SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction African Penguin Conservation Action Plan. Since the early 1900’s the population of African penguins in the wild has dropped by a staggering 97%.

Saving Species
While staying on Robben Island, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team will be working with Dr. Richard Sherley, from University of Exeter.  Dr. Sherley has been studying African Penguins on Robben Island since 2007. His research focuses on the nesting success, survival and dispersal of seabirds to understand the impact of anthropogenic and environmental change in marine ecosystems.

The AZA African Penguin Tagging Team was able to tag and collect data on 53 penguins on Robben Island.  It was an impressive number for Dr. Sherley and Dr. Katrin Ludynia, field biologist for SANCCOB and the University of Cape Town.

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Maryland Zoo Curator Mike McClure spent the day tagging penguin chicks.

In an email, Mike McClure said, “Yesterday was very successful as we located and checked about half of the nests we were looking for. We transpondered 22 birds (6 adults and 16 fledglings) and gathered a lot of raw data on each bird. We also learned more about the project than we could ever do had we not been here in person.”

nesting penguins

The field conditions are quite harsh, penguins find areas to nest in dense, thorny underbrush which is a great defense against predators and provides protection from the weather.

The field conditions are quite harsh, penguins find areas to nest in dense, thorny underbrush which is a great defense against predators and provides protection from the weather.  Therefore it makes it difficult to locate the nests, and capture and collect data on the birds.

 

Boulder’s Beach
After spending several days on Robben Island, it was time to return to the mainland and head to Boulder’s Beach. Boulder’s Beach is one of the few mainland colonies of African penguins. Over 700,000 visitors come to see the penguins at Boulder’s annually. This colony is threatened by predation from wild and domestic animals, parasites, disturbance by guests and being hit by vehicles.

Boulders penguins in surf

Boulder’s Beach is one of the few mainland colonies of African penguins. Over 700,000 visitors come to see the penguins at Boulder’s annually.

At the time of writing this Blog, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team was traveling to Gansbaii, which is home to the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT) and the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS).  The APSS is another rescue and rehabilitation facility for African penguins and seabirds along the South African Coastline.  There, the team is going to work with African Penguins at APSS and learn about their programs for rehabilitation and release of the penguins.

After spending the weekend in Gansbaii, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team will be heading back toward Cape Town to Betty’s Bay and Stony Point. Stony Point sits on this coastal bay and is home to the only penguin colony that is presently increasing in population.  This area is managed by our partners, Cape Nature.  Habitat restoration is important and the removal invasive plants have improved the area for the penguins.  This beach also sees a seasonal increase of penguins in November, when birds come from their island nesting colony to gorge on fish and molt. After the molt, they head back to their island colony for breeding and nesting.

There has been much learned and much more to learn in future trips to work with the field biologists, rangers and researchers.  The information gathered should help support management decisions and improve habitats for the nesting colonies. The goals will be set higher for 2017 and I hope to be reporting to all of our supporters from South Africa next spring on the successes of the AZA African Penguin Individual Identification Project.

If you are interested in helping support our efforts in protecting the African Penguins, you can:

  • Contribute to the WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium (wavefoundation.org) to support the AZA African Penguin Tagging Project
  • Participate in a “Penguin Encounter” at the Newport Aquarium. A portion of the proceeds of your encounter benefit the Aquatic Conservation Fund.
  • “Round-Up” your purchase in the gift shop to support the “Dollars for Conservation” program
  • Adopt” a Penguin online from the WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium
  • Download the Seafood Watch App and contribute to eating sustainable seafood
  • Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – reducing our dependency for plastic will help lower the amount of plastic pollution in the environment around us and in our oceans

Read more about the African Penguin PIT Tagging Project in Part 1: Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium leads efforts in saving African penguins

Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium leads efforts in saving African penguins

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer

African penguins

African penguins are an endangered species. It is projected that this species can become extinct in the next 10-15 years

One of my favorite animals at  Newport Aquarium is our African Penguins.  People love to see our penguins and since 2007 when we first brought African Penguins to the Aquarium nearly a million people have seen these birds, whether it has been “on the road” at special events and television interviews or the behind-the-scenes experience in our Penguin Encounter.  The penguins are great ambassadors and very popular.

However, African Penguins are an endangered species. We have watched a steady decline of the African Penguins since the late 1950’s when there were around 300,000 individuals in South Africa. In 2001, there were over 100,000 individuals and recently it has been estimated that there are less than 50,000 penguins left in their range country.  In October, 2010, the USFWS listed African Penguins as an Endangered Species. This species is only 2½% of what it was 80 years ago. It is projected that this species can be extinct in the next 10-15 years. We cannot allow this to happen.

Saving African Penguins
This spring, I was appointed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to be the Program Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Project.  For short, we’ll call it the “PIT tag Project”. Through a partnership of African agencies and AZA Zoo and Aquarium partners, the goal has been set to individually identify African penguin chicks and adults at selected colonies each year. Penguins set to be released from rehabilitation centers will also be tagged. Our goal is to tag at least 10% of the world’s population of African Penguins over the next 3 years. Essentially that will be around 5,000 birds tagged and identified in South Africa and Namibia.

The goal of the PIT tagging project is to tag at least 10% of the world’s population of African Penguins over the next 3 years.

The goal of the PIT tagging project is to tag at least 10% of the world’s population of African Penguins over the next 3 years.

Once the African penguins are tagged, researchers will be able to identify individual birds with hand-held readers. Technology also allows us to track birds by using ground/strip readers which are installed near the breeding colonies which will provide continuous data collection. All this information will give AZA and the field biologists the data to develop the most effective programs to manage the colonies and other areas of African penguin conservation.

There are 50 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums which house African penguins and many more house other penguin species. This creates a great opportunity for many AZA Members (keepers and veterinarians) who have experience handling and caring for these animals. With this valuable experience our AZA community is able to help with tagging penguins by sponsoring qualified individuals to travel to South Africa to participate in tagging programs.

The ‘tagging season’ for African Penguins in the colonies is from April through August.  This is the time that the penguins are molting and or nesting. With the ‘window of opportunity’ closing for this year, our project partners, the Maryland Zoo and Sea World San Diego, each had a staff member able to go to South Africa and participate in the first AZA SAFE PIT Tagging Team.

The rest of the year (September – March), the tagging is done in the rescue and rehabilitation centers when orphaned or injured penguins are brought into the facilities.  Once back to health, the birds are PIT tagged and released.

Our 2016 Inaugural AZA SAFE African Penguin PIT Tagging Team was selected from our Collaborating Partners.  On July 20th, Mike McClure from the Maryland Zoo and Kylene Plemons from Sea World San Diego set out to Cape Town, South Africa and 12 days with African Penguins. In South Africa, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team will visit a couple of penguin rescue and rehabilitation facilities as well as collecting data in 3 penguin colonies; the Robben Island colony, the Boulder’s Beach colony and the Stony Point colony.

African penguin

Every penguin receiving a ‘PIT” tag, will also be measured, weighed, blood drawn and feathers collected for DNA.

The first stop is in Table View, a community outside of Cape Town, which is the home of the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).  SANCCOB rescues, rehabilitates and releases hundreds of penguins and other seabirds each year. At SANCCOB, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team received valuable instructions on how to approach and handle a wild penguin safely. The team was also trained on data collection on every penguin handled. Every penguin receiving a ‘PIT” tag, will also be measured, weighed, blood drawn and feathers collected for DNA. At SANCCOB, the Team meets Dr. Katrin Ludynia, field biologist for SANCCOB and the University of Cape Town. Dr. Ludynia will be their liaison for the trip since she is the primary researcher on the AZA African Penguin Tagging Project.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Penguins on Robben Island.

Newport Aquarium and AZA SAFE Partners