Takeover Tuesday: Celebrate World Penguin Day at Newport Aquarium

Happy World Penguin Day! My name is Dan Clady, I am the Senior Biologist in charge of penguins. Thank you for joining me on this special Takeover Tuesday. Every day, I take care of the almost 50 penguins in Penguin Palooza.

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Senior Biologist, Dan Clady, has worked at Newport Aquarium for 13 years. He takes care of almost 50 penguins in Penguin Palooza.

Feeding is my favorite part – I’m like a waiter, working the room (Penguin Palooza) and feeding anybody (any penguin) that looks hungry.

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Two Gentoo penguin eggs.

I’m holding two Gentoo eggs in this picture. I’m getting ready to “candle” the eggs, to see if they’re fertile. Stay tuned, if we have baby penguins, we’ll announce it on our social media pages.

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Spike, one of the Chinstrap penguins, just turned 30 years old.

Spike is a Chinstrap penguin. She just turned 30 years old in January. She is blind in one eye – she has a cataract in her right eye. When I feed her, I feed on her left side, because she cannot see on the right side. Even with the cataracts, she is as vocal as any other bird.

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King penguin, Madonna, is standing at center of attention in this photo.

Madonna  is a King penguin who is in love with people. She follows us around anytime we are in there, she “courts” us the whole time. Madonna is a wild collected egg from 1996, and is one of the original birds in Penguin Palooza.

 

 

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Penguins eat about 65-pounds of fish every day.

Feeding penguins is my favorite part of the day. Our flock of penguins eat about 65-pounds of fish every single day, 365 days a year. We hand feed them herring. They also eat ocean smelt and silver sides whenever they want.

Listen to Madonna, the boastful King penguin. In this video, she is showing courtship behavior, the sound she’s making is a courting call. She is “courting” us; it might be me, but she follows anyone around in Penguin Palooza.

Penguins in snow

King penguins take time to play in the snow.

Oops, someone left the snow machine on all NIGHT!

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I give the Macaroni penguins and Gentoo penguins rocks to build a nest. The igloos in this picture are for the Rockhoppers. They prefer grasses instead of rocks. I leave the rocks and igloos in there all year, it helps the penguins pair-bond for when breeding season comes around. Late fall, the Macaroni, Gentoo, Rockhopper and Chinstrap penguins all breed. The King penguins lay their eggs around Christmas time.

Thank you for celebrating World Penguin Day and #TakeoverTuesday with me today!

To learn more about all of the species of penguins at Newport Aquarium, and how we, along with other AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are working to save species, read our previous World Penguin Day blog post here.

 

 

 

 

 

Help Protect the Earth on Earth Day and Every Day

As we get ready to celebrate Earth Day, here are some things you can do to help protect the Earth. The National Ocean Service put together this list 0f 10 choices you can make for a healthier planet.Earth Day NOAA

Living with less plastic
Reduce the amount of reusable plastic in the world. According to a recent report, by the year 2050, there will be more plastics in our ocean than fish. Small changes over time add up to a big difference, especially when using plastic.Less Plastic

Protecting endangered animals
When guests visit Newport Aquarium, not only do they get to see amazing animals, but they also get to learn about how to help those animals and their environment. Newport Aquarium and other AZA accredited zoo and aquariums work to protect some of the world’s most endangered animals in their facilities.

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Nearly all species of sea turtle are classified as Endangered. Newport Aquarium is a part of a sea turtle rehabilitation program, to rescue and release baby sea turtles back in to the wild.

Aquariums allow for people to see and interact with animals that they never would get the chance to normally. Aquariums also give a chance of a close and personal interaction with animals that can allow for guests to develop a special connection and help develop a passion to protect the animals and their environment.

Importance of Water
Newport Aquarium hopes to educate people about the importance of water and about the everyday things they can do to help protect our oceans, planet, and animals. A “Water Story” sign welcomes guests to exhibits. Guests can discover diverse ecosystems, the source of our planet’s water and threats to the world’s water as they visit.

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The World Rivers exhibit allows for guest to learn about a highest density and diversity of nine different rivers from five different continents.

Newport Aquarium also strives to improve water quality and conservation efforts to help the aquatic life in both ocean and fresh water environments all over the planet. Learn more in our World Water Day post.

Learn to love sea life
Through education; you will grow to appreciate ocean and marine life and take a more caring and careful approach to all things oceanic. A great way to do this is to visit local aquariums and AZA institutions, like Newport Aquarium.

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Overhead view of the Coral Reef, guests can see on a behind-the-scenes tour at Newport Aquarium.

Reduce plastic
Stop one time plastic. Plastic bottles, straws and containers are dangerous for the environment. Try to use reusable products as much as you can. Whether it is water bottles, tuber wear containers, or reusable straws, using these items help cut down on the use on one time plastics. This in return, can reduce the amount of harmful plastic found in wildlife.

Always recycle
Recycling helps to reduce the pollution caused by waste. Try to make full use of the recycling depots in your local area.

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Volunteer and Donate
Volunteer to clean up local rivers and beach areas. Join thousands of volunteers at this year’s ORSANCO River Sweep, and clean up the Ohio River, its tributaries and riverbanks on June 17, 2017.  Volunteer with the WAVE Foundation  to excite, engage and educate our community about the wonders of aquatic life and the importance of conservation.

Most of us want to make a difference and do something good for the planet. Earth Day is the perfect time to reflect and see what we can do to protect our planet.

 

It’s Time to Reforest Northern Kentucky

Details:  The 10th Annual Reforest NKY event will be March 25, 2017 at the Piner property of Big Bone Lick State Park.  More information here.  All are welcome – from those who have no tree experience or knowledge to those in a life-long career in arboriculture.   If you like trees, you’ll fit right in.

By Ric Urban, Newport Aquarium

Spring is here officially and Reforest NKY is heading out to Big Bone Lick State Park to plant trees in an effort to bring some old farmland back to its natural state.  This year Reforest NKY has partnered with the Center for Environmental Restoration in planting one of their projects along Gum Branch Creek.  The site has been prepared and the stream restored to its original flow, which includes a newly restored wetlands area.

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Reforest Northern Kentucky is a successful, sustainable event.  Since 2007, more than 36 acres of protected public park and school land have been planted with native woodland trees and nearly 3,000 volunteers have participated.  Image courtesy of Northern KY Urban and Community Forestry Council

We have a water story to tell when planting trees.  Trees are important for stream and river health.  Have you ever spent time walking along a stream, to see a crayfish or a minnow darting along in the current? There is something about listening to the breeze through the leaves, being shaded from the sun and checking out all of the cool creatures that live in this watery habitat.

Throughout Northern Kentucky there are streams, creeks and rivers that have trees lining the waterways.  This is called the “riparian zone.” This riparian ecosystem is made up of trees, shrubs and plants that filter the water before it enters the stream, prevents soil erosion and sediment pollution in the waterway, and also creates shaded areas, keeping the streams cool and livable for the aquatic species. So putting it simply, trees save fish.

The WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium is working with the Northern Kentucky Urban and Forestry Council (NKYUFC) to increase our public education and awareness of the importance of trees in our communities. By planting trees and preserving our riparian (riverbank) zones, we are improving our environments, creating clean and safe waterways and enhancing our quality of life.

On Saturday, March 25th, 2017, the Northern Kentucky Urban and Forestry Council will be hosting its Annual Reforest NKY Event at Big Bone Lick State Park in Boone County. This is the 10th year that Reforest NKY has planted trees throughout Northern Kentucky.  Nearly 3,000 volunteers have participated in planting thousands of tree seedlings in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties.

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Come out and join us planting trees on Saturday, the weather is going to be great!  Come dressed to get muddy and bring an extra pair of shoes for the trip back home.  Image courtesy of Northern KY Urban and Community Forestry Council.

The next time you’re at Newport Aquarium, check out the Water Story, which shows how important a role healthy streams and rivers play in our everyday lives.

Let’s Discover the Wonder…. Together – Plant a Tree and Save a Fish.

World Water Day at Newport Aquarium

NEWPORT, Ky– Today is World Water Day!

World Water Day was created in 1993 and is coordinated by UN Water—the United Nation’s branch concerning all issues related to freshwater. The day is meant to spread awareness about freshwater and to encourage actions to ensure safe water for everyone—including fish!

Here at Newport Aquarium, water is a huge part of what we do. In fact, we have more than one million gallons of water here in our tanks!

Water Story

We share a “Water Story,” with signs welcoming guests to exhibits. Guests will go on a “journey” of sorts, as they discover diverse ecosystems, the source of our planet’s water and threats to the world’s water.

When guests visit, they learn about the important role they play in conservation and helping keep our water clean. They’ll also learn what we can do to help preserve our most precious resource – water.

Let’s take a behind-the-scenes look at how we make that water safe for our marine animals.

Water Recipes from around the World

One million gallons is a lot of water! And our animals can’t just live in any old water.

According to Cameo VonStrohe, Water Quality Specialist at Newport Aquarium, “It really is ‘world water’ here at the aquarium. We have animals from all over the world, so we have to mimic water from all over the world!”

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Water Quality Specialist Cameo VonStrohe started at Newport Aquarium as an intern in 1999, while studying biology with a minor in chemistry at NKU. She didn’t always know she wanted to work in the water lab of an aquarium—although animals were always part of the equation! She first dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, but eventually discovered that she loved the laboratory.

How do we do this? It’s a process! First, when the city water comes in, it gets filtered through carbon to take out things we don’t want in our water—chemicals that are added for people, like fluoride and chlorine.

Then we break out our water “recipes” to match each aquatic environment that our animals represent. Our biologists and engineers make our saltwater using a unique recipe that includes sodium chloride (better known as table salt!) and nine other salts.

Filtration systems and weekly testing keep the water clean and safe for both animals and divers.

Testing the Waters

VonStrohe tests water from all of the tanks at the aquarium in the Water Quality Laboratory at least once a week. She conducts what she calls a “full run” of four tests on each water sample:  salinity, pH, ammonia, and nitrite.

Refractometer and pH Test HM

To test for salinity—the amount of salt in the water—VonStrohe uses an instrument called a refractometer, which looks like a small telescope and uses light and a tiny scale inside to measure the amount of salt in each water sample. pH testing measures how acidic or basic a water sample is. VonStrohe uses the results of the tests to adjust the tanks to suit each animal.

The goals for each test vary by tank, because each tank simulates a different aquatic environment from around the world. For example, the big 385,000 gallon saltwater shark tank has salinity levels mimicking the ocean, and requires a pH of above 8. But in the Shore Gallery, the water is brackish, meaning it’s a mixture of fresh and saltwater.

In nature, the nitrogen cycle transforms toxic ammonia created from animal waste to nitrite and then to nitrate thanks to the help of some good bacteria. “Everyone thinks bacteria are so horrible,” VonStrohe said, “but they are actually essential to keeping animals healthy!”

Water Lab

Ammonia is created naturally by animals, but it’s toxic to them. The water samples in these test tubes turn different colors depending on their ammonia levels. VonStrohe uses these results to adjust the water going into the tanks.

In an aquarium, this cycle is helped along by people like VonStrohe and machines like the shark tank’s denitrification unit. This machine has three big tubs where tank water is cycled through different chemical reactions that eat up nitrites. Then the machine returns the water to safe levels before sending it back into the tank.

Nitrite Test

VonStrohe conducts four different tests on water samples from all of the aquarium’s tanks each week. One of these is to test for nitrite in the water. “The more pink the sample turns, the more nitrite is present!” she said.

Sometimes, VonStrohe performs more involved testing on the water. Microbiology tests check for tiny organisms and bacteria, and a machine called the atomic absorption spectrometer uses an open flame and beams of light to measure the levels of certain elements in the water.

Spec 2 Water Lab

This atomic absorption spectrometer uses light and an open flame to measure the levels of elements in the water samples. VonStrohe likes to tell people that this is the same type of machine that is used on crime shows like NCIS!

 World Water all year round

Here at Newport Aquarium, it’s World Water Day every day of the year!

A lot of behind-the-scenes water testing, filtering, and cleaning is done by our dedicated staff to ensure our aquatic friends from around the world feel right at home here in Newport, Kentucky.

Cameo Water Lab

All of our water is filtered with carbon and specially made using a recipe of salts to match water environments from around the world!

 

 

 

Takeover Tuesday: A day in the life of a Newport Aquarium Herpetologist

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

My name is Erin and I am one of the biologists at Newport Aquarium! I am a Herpetologist, which means that I work with the Reptiles and Amphibians. The place you are most likely to find me is in our Frog Bog where I care for most of our amphibian collection! Come with me on this #TakeoverTuesday as I show you a day in my life!

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Herpetologist, Erin, takes care of the animals in Frog Bog.

One of my jobs is to raise the next generation. These are Halmahera gecko eggs. We had Halmahera geckos running free in Canyon Falls and found these eggs when we were getting ready to start construction on the new Stingray Hideaway.

Gecko eggs

These Halmahera gecko eggs are from geckos that were running free in Canyon Falls. If these eggs hatch, the geckos will be released to run free in Stingray Hideaway.

If they hatch, we’ll release them and their parents back into Stingray Hideaway. So, keep your eyes out for geckos on the walls when we open our new exhibit this summer!

Sometimes, animals arrive too small to go into their future home. When that happens, I take care of them and help them grow up big and strong. Here is a baby Giant Musk Turtle who has a little more growing to do before he can hang out in our Shore Gallery.

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Baby Giant Musk Turtle

Some of the smallest animals I care for live in the Frog Bog. These are Anthony’s Poison Arrow Frogs in multiple stages of their development, from tadpoles just getting their legs, to a brand new froglet, to two adults.

Anthony’s Poison Arrow Frogs are considered Near Threatened in the wild. Breeding efforts by Newport Aquarium and other Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institutions will hopefully keep this frog and other amphibian species off the Endangered Species List.

You may ask yourself, what does a newly hatched dart frog eat? One food we offer is called a spring tail – it’s a tiny insect.

We also give them small fruit flies and newly hatched pinhead crickets. Here at Newport Aquarium, we breed our own fruit flies and crickets so that we always have a good supply of food ready for our smallest amphibians.

Not all of the animals I take care of are tiny. I also help take care of the biggest reptiles at the aquarium, Mighty Mike our American alligator, and the rare white American alligators, Snowball and Snowflake.

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Mighty Mike, the 14-foot long American alligator

 

They may look like statues, but believe me, they are alive. Part of taking care of them includes everyone’s favorite to watch: Feeding!

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Snowball and Snowflake, rare white American alligators

During the winter, they eat every three weeks. But in the summer, they eat every week. If you are lucky, you might catch us out on the beach feeding Mike some chickens, fish, or even a rabbit or two!

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Herpetologists, Erin and Ryan feed Mighty Mike.

I hope you enjoyed #TakeoverTuesday with me. Now, like this Tiger Leg Monkey Frog, it is time to rest!

Tiger Leg Monkey Frog

Tiger Leg Monkey Frog

 

Check out our other #TakeoverTuesday posts

Renowned Shark Scientist Joins Newport Aquarium

Newport Aquarium Takes Research Efforts to Next Level 

NEWPORT, Ky. — Thanks to a partnership with New England Aquarium, Newport Aquarium has created a new Senior Research Scientist position. Dr. Nick Whitney, Ph.D. is the new researcher working with the two institutions, and is now in residence at Newport Aquarium.

“This partnership speaks to the reach of the aquarium. We are now expanding our scope and commitment to wildlife conservation through leading-edge shark research,” said Eric Rose, Executive Director at Newport Aquarium.

Dr. Nick Whitney

Dr. Nick Whitney, new Senior Research Scientist

The opportunity for a dedicated research position presented itself when Dr. Whitney relocated to Cincinnati after more than seven years with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida. He then joined the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at New England Aquarium, and thanks to some great collaboration with these leading institutions, Dr. Whitney will work in residence right here at Newport Aquarium.

“I’m looking forward to taking research and conservation efforts here at Newport Aquarium to more of a national and international level. I’m excited to join this team of dedicated biologists and build upon their impressive research efforts that have the potential to improve animal care and field conservation around the world,” said Whitney.

Whitney’s research uses high-tech tags called accelerometers (the same motion sensors found in smartphones and Fitbits) to measure fine-scale movements of animals to study their behavior and answer questions that can’t be addressed through traditional tags. His current research with New England Aquarium focuses on whether sharks survive after being caught and released by fishermen.

At Newport, Whitney looks forward to contributing to ongoing research around the Aquarium’s groundbreaking shark ray breeding program, developing and testing new types of shark tags and attachment methods, and helping to increase the conservation impact of this research.

“We are fortunate to have the talents of Dr. Whitney on staff. He will also be supporting the animal husbandry team by leading our own in-house research, then publishing our original research in leading journals and publications,” said Eric Rose.

Dr. Whitney has conducted research on sharks, sea turtles, and other species and has appeared on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic Channel among others. He has worked with the conservation group OCEARCH to tag adult great white sharks off of Cape Cod, and his research has been supported by a variety of funding sources, including the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Geographic Society.

For more information, visit NewportAquarium.com or call 800-406-FISH (3474).

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Newport Aquarium, named one of the top U.S. aquariums in 2016 by Leisure Group Travel, and voted the No. 1 aquarium in the country by USA Today’s 10Best.com in 2012, has showcased thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water since 1999. Named a top U.S. aquarium by US City Traveler and Destinations Travel Magazine in 2014, and also by Travel Channel in 2013, Newport Aquarium is a Herschend Family Entertainment company and an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Newport Aquarium is open to the public 365 days a year and is located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.

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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.

Boulders colony 1

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.

MarylandZoo MMcClure

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

2016 National Zoo Keeper Week

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer

This is one of my favorite times of the year, National Zoo Keeper Week. Since 2007, when Congress declared the 3rd week in July as NZKW, we get to celebrate the dedication of the thousands of men and women that dedicate themselves daily to professional animal care in our nation’s zoos, aquariums and wildlife centers. During my 35 years in the industry, I have seen many changes in our profession. Keepers are the ‘front line educators’ for our guests. People want to know more about the animals under our care, and they want to hear it from the person who takes care of the animals. We are out in the elements 365 days a year. We are out in the freezing snow and ice, we are out in the blazing heat; but we are always out there providing the highest standards of care to the animals that are in our institutions.

As a long-time zoo and aquarium professional, I want everyone to know and appreciate my colleagues in conservation. Our mission is to ‘save wild animals and save wild spaces.’ More keepers today are species population managers. Within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), there are over 600 managed species of animals around the world. Many of these programs are managed by keepers. They travel to the range countries where these animals live, they work with local governments on protecting this species as well as the other flora and fauna that lives in that ecosystem. Keepers do amazing things.

A keeper’s day is more than just feeding and cleaning. Keepers may be involved in environmental enrichment, exhibit design and landscaping, administering medical treatments, or training. They are ‘jacks of all trades.’ Keepers are dieticians, carpenters, designers, horticulturists, public speakers and educators. NZKW

Zoo Keeper is such a generic term sometimes… we are called aquarists, biologists, aviculturists, herpetologist, animal technician or animal care specialist. Whatever you call us… please recognize us as passionate and dedicated to our profession.

At the Newport Aquarium, we are proud of the contributions our biologists make for the preservation of species. They work on committees for the management of the North American populations of animals, they work for the preservation of our local waterways and wetlands, they develop guidelines for care of captive wildlife, and they work for the conservation of habitat and ecosystems for wildlife where they live.

Biologists from Newport Aquarium partnered with Thomas More College, ORSANCO and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to help save endangered freshwater mussels in Kentucky.  Pictured: Jen, Ryan, and Ty.

Biologists from Newport Aquarium partnered with Thomas More College, ORSANCO and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to help save endangered freshwater mussels in Kentucky. Pictured: Jen, Ryan, and Ty.

Newport Aquarium is an accredited member of the AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums), which means we meet exceptional standards in animal care, wildlife conservation and public education. Newport Aquarium is one of only 233 accredited institutions in North America, where there are over 3,000 professional animal keepers providing invaluable roles as leaders in animal conservation and the frontline educators.

Spend some time this week visiting and let the keepers know they’re doing a great job!