Newport Aquarium Animal Caretakers Rally Behind Paralyzed Penguin

In honor of World Penguin Day, we’re sharing an amazing story that’s incredibly close to our hearts. It’s a story about one of our feathered friends who is on the road to recovery from a medical defect to her spinal cord. A year ago, Victoria the penguin couldn’t walk. Now, thanks to the care, attention and love of Newport Aquarium’s dedicated biologists, she’s making great progress.

Penguin loft - Victoria and Clifford

Victoria and Clifford in the penguin loft – November, 2016.

Victoria the Macaroni penguin came to Newport Aquarium in 2010, with her mate, Clifford. “She’s a real sweetheart – a super friendly bird,” said Dan Clady, Senior Biologist. Before her injury, guests could often find the pair spending time together in the loft area in the Penguin Palooza habitat.

Vet Visit
Senior biologist, Dan Clady, first noticed something was wrong with Victoria in February 2017, when she was seen laying around in Penguin Palooza, and not walking. Clady was baffled; he had been working with penguins since 1999 and had never seen anything like it. Initially, Clady thought Victoria had somehow broken her back when he found her in Penguin Palooza.

Penguin Palooza

Penguin Palooza is home to nearly 50 penguins.

But the bird’s condition was a mystery as “There was no possible way that she fell, causing a traumatic event that way,” said Jolene Hanna, Animal Health & Quarantine Manager, and Veterinary Technician.

Close to 50 penguins live in Penguin Palooza, including King penguins, Macaroni, Southern Rockhopper, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. Clady and Hanna turned to Newport Aquarium’s Director of Veterinary Services, Dr. Peter Hill, who took X-rays, which showed no broken bones. “She could not bring herself into an upright position,” said Hanna. “We could not find through the radiograph why this bird was not able to stand.” Dr. Hill started Victoria on a round of medicine, including anti-inflammatories, pain reducers and steroids as part of her treatment.

Victoria Xray

Dr. Joseph Bruner (left), Jolene Hanna, and Dr. Peter Hill review Victoria’s X-ray at Greater Cincinnati Veterinary Specialists. The X-ray showed no broken bones.

“Because blood clotting was a possibility, we had to rule that out. So we put her on a series of drugs to try to figure out what we could rule out in terms of what could be the problem,” Hanna said.

Victoria exam

Victoria could not stand on her own.

After about a month, nothing changed. That’s when they decided to take Victoria in for a CT scan, which revealed a hole in her spinal cord. “It’s a defect and it was in the center of the spinal cord right at her pelvic girdle,” said Hanna, “it impacted her nerves.”

Victoria CT scan

A CT scan revealed a pin-sized hole in Victoria’s spinal cord.

Dr. Hill says he’s happy they were able to identify the lesion. “Often times these things go undiagnosed due to lack of equipment, and not testing for it.”

Swimming in Circles
Clady says the best physical therapy for Victoria was to get her back in the water, and Dr. Hill agrees. Another big step towards recovery has been to make sure she’s spending time with her fellow penguins.

“These are colonial birds, they don’t like being alone,” Clady said. Victoria gets physical therapy every day, and you can find her swimming in Penguin Palooza from 8:30-2:30 daily for her water therapy. Victoria is easily identified thanks to a red tag on both of her wings. She’s the one swimming in circles in the exhibit, as she makes progress on her left foot.  She now has full control of her right foot.

 “It’s a testament to the staff that we pursued this, and stuck with the physical therapy, and saw this treatment through, to where we are today,” said Dr. Hill.

Victoria couldn’t spend all her time in Penguin Palooza, especially when she started molting. All birds molt – they lose their feathers. Penguins have a unique molting process.

Victoria on Ice

Penguins have a unique molting process. They shed all of their feathers at once.

“When they molt, they get hot, like physically hot,” said Clady. That’s a natural condition normal in their native cold environment. Victoria went through her molt in early March, which is different than most birds because while other birds only shed a few feathers at a time, penguins shed all of their feathers at once.  During Victoria’s molting season, Clady moved her into the “cold room” behind the scenes, for a different form of therapy.

Snow Spa
Victoria started receiving a “snow spa” treatment. She spent her days lying in fresh snow that Dan shoveled daily just for her, until she finished molting. Dan described the process of molting as uncomfortable for Victoria, comparing it to a baby teething.

Dan, Jolene, and Victoria1

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

Penguins have a core temperature of 101 degrees and can easily overheat. The “snow spa” that Dan set up for her helped her stay cool and comfortable while she was going through molting. Molting is a normal process but with her working on recovery from her spinal condition, the animal care team was happy to do anything they could to make her more comfortable.

“She sat in that snow, and started digging around. She enjoyed being able to cool off in there,” Clady said. “It alleviated the pressure on her chest too.”

Making Progress
A year later, Victoria has full control of her right foot, she’s still working on her left foot.

She’s now able to prop herself up, and Dan helps her stabilize herself. “She keeps taking a step in the right direction, and she’s constantly getting better.” said Clady.


Victoria floats around on top the water, while Senior Biologist, Dan Clady, sprays the rockwork in Penguin Palooza.

Victoria is improving over time, and Dr. Hill says spinal cord lesions take a lot of time to improve. It’s thanks to the attentiveness of her dedicated animal care team that Victoria has made the progress she has so far.

“The upside is she is able to swim, and that’s ideal for her mental attitude and physical therapy. She’s maintained a sense of mental balance. Without that, I think she would’ve deteriorated. Without a stimulus, physical therapy and the enrichment of being around birds, she would’ve likely deteriorated quickly – from not only a mental state, but also muscle atrophy,” said Dr. Hill.


Victoria takes a dip underwater. She’s easily identifiable by her red wing bands.

The animal care team continues to work with Victoria as she heals and improves. You might think Victoria’s the one getting all the benefit from this care. But it’s clear in talking with each of the Newport Aquarium animal experts, from Dan to Jolene to Dr. Hill and many others, they are each nurtured by their special relationship with Victoria.

Enrichment for the Otters

by: Megan Gregory, Public Relations Aide at Newport Aquarium

Have you ever been to a zoo or aquarium and noticed something odd in the exhibit? Something that looks like it belongs to a child, like a small slide or Easter Eggs? These weren’t thrown in by accident, these are enrichment tools! These items are placed in the exhibit to stimulate animals both physically and psychologically.

Newport Aquarium is fortunate to have several animals who participate in enrichment, most notably our Asian Small Clawed Otters: Neda and Pork Chop.

What is Enrichment?

Enrichment is an important factor when it comes to an animal’s well-being while under professional care. It’s modifying an animal’s environment to stimulate behaviors like those in the wild.

The Association for Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) requires all accredited facilities to participate in enrichment programs. There are several types that are used on the otters to enhance their well-being: scent, food, physical, auditory, and training are just a few.

Why is Enrichment Important?

When an animal is in the wild, they spend a significant amount of time looking for food, building shelters, mating, and defending their space. While under professional care, they don’t need to worry about any of these things – which is where enrichment comes in. Adding this into their routine is a controlled and safe way to help the animals maintain their ability to adapt to change and stress in their environment.

What Items are used for Enrichment?

There are hundreds of options for enrichment tools. It’s something different for them to explore every day. Some days, there will be hay spread out; other days will be giant Legos. With Easter coming up, biologists have been putting Easter eggs with food or rocks inside of them to encourage the otters to pry them open. They’ll also have an Easter basket with rocks and eggs at the bottom, this gets them to forage a trait they’ll do in the wild. Scents like nutmeg, cinnamon, or other strong smells are spread throughout the exhibit, which keeps them intrigued. You’ll also notice that every once in a while, live fish are put into the pond inside the exhibit to encourage them to hunt.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Each item has to be approved through Newport Aquarium’s Enrichment Committee before they can be used. It has to have a specific reason: What will this accomplish? Is it for brain stimulation? Is it to encourage exercise? It then has to be inspected for safety, making sure there is absolutely no way this can hurt the animal. After it’s been completely approved by the committee, it goes into a rotation. If the same tools are put on exhibit every day, it defeats the purpose of enrichment and the otters could get bored.

What Happens if the Otters Don’t Cooperate?

At Newport Aquarium, we are proud to participate in Animal Choice Programming. This means, for example, if Neda decides she wouldn’t like to participate in training or enrichment, she doesn’t have to. It’s also important to remember: even though we may not be able to notice it, enrichment is happening every day.

Pork Chop loves ice!

Pork Chop loves to crunch ice.

Neda loves to play with Legos. She's chewed these up a bit.

Neda loves to play with Legos. She’s chewed these up a bit.











You can see our Asian Small Clawed Otters in Canyon Falls. We have Otter Talks at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. where you’ll get to see Pork Chop, who loves to juggle, and Neda, who loves to play with Legos and shred things apart. Plan your next visit, take a look at the Newport Aquarium Events Calendar here.

Happy Penguin Awareness Day

Today we celebrate our adorable tuxedo-clad birds. Penguins get their special day every year on Penguin Awareness Day, on January 20 – not to be confused with World Penguin Day or African Penguin Awareness Day. There are six species of penguins here at Newport Aquarium. You might be surprised to hear that not all penguins love the snow and cold. In fact, about two-thirds of penguins are warm-weather birds. When you visit Newport Aquarium, you can see the cold-weather penguins at Penguin Palooza. Kings, Gentoo, Macaroni, Southern Rockhopper and Chinstrap all love the snow. Another highlight of a visit to Newport Aquarium is the Penguin Parade. Newport Aquarium’s ambassador animals, African penguins, parade inside our front lobby in the colder months, and outside the aquarium during warmer summer months.

African penguins enjoy warmer temperatures than their cold weather cousins. Here at Newport Aquarium, they have a special home “backstage.”

Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer, holding Paula, one of Newport Aquarium's African penguins.

Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer, holding Paula, one of Newport Aquarium’s African penguins.

Our Chief Conservation Officer, Ric Urban, hand-fed many of the African penguins as chicks, and when you see him interact with them, you can tell how close their bond is. Guests are invited to purchase a one-of-a-kind hands-on experience with these amazing birds through a Penguin Encounter. An Animal Experience Expert will talk to you about the penguins while you visit the Penguin House. You get to sit on a bench, and the penguins can waddle right up to you. You’re allowed to take pictures, and maybe even touch one. A portion of the sales for Penguin Encounters is donated to the WAVE Foundation for penguin conservation programs.

Penguin Painting 2

Original artwork created by Blueberry, one of Newport Aquarium’s African penguins. Painting is a form of enrichment for our penguins, it provides mental stimulation.

Penguin Painting

Blueberry finished creating her masterpiece. Alle Barber, Conservation Program Manager at Newport Aquarium, helps create the works of art with each of the African penguins.

Penguin Painting

The work space of an artist. African penguins walk, run and waddle through the paint puddles and leave their tracks on the canvas.

Another one-of-a-kind opportunity is to purchase original penguin artwork from our in-house Picassos – our African penguins created masterpieces that you can order online or buy in Newport Aquarium’s gift shop. Speckles, Paula, Red Pepper, Green Bean, Simon, Sandy, Randi, Blueberry have all taken part in the penguin pitter platter spatter. Each original penguin art comes with a Certificate of Authenticity, an information sheet about the artists and a color photo of the artists in action! Painting is a form of enrichment for our penguins. Enrichment is about providing animals with stimulating and challenging environments, objects and activities. It aims to enhance their activity and provides mental stimulation for the penguins. Who wouldn’t have fun stomping and splattering in paint?!

So, the next time you’re visiting Newport Aquarium, be sure to stop by and say ‘hi’ to these incredible birds – one of the most diverse collections of penguins in the country.