Spring Forward, Lights Off! Cold Weather Penguins Gearing Up for Spring

By Megan Gregory, PR Aide at Newport Aquarium

As we prepare to set our clocks forward one hour this spring, the Antarctic is preparing to enter winter and say goodbye to the sun.IMG_0290

The Antarctic is on an opposite schedule than the United States. As things get warmer for us, things are vastly getting colder in the South Pole.

Because the earth’s axis is tilted, the Antarctic only has two seasons: Summer and winter. During their summer (Late October through Mid-March) the sun doesn’t fully set while in the winter (Mid-March through Late October) the sun doesn’t rise.

How do we keep our penguins on this cycle?

The lights inside of the exhibit are slightly adjusted each week to mimic the lights of Antarctica. This helps keep the penguins in their natural cycle and exposed to a consistent photoperiod as if they were in the South Pole.

Why is it important to the penguins on this cycle?

It keeps the penguins on their natural cycle by promoting proper breeding and molting cycles. While penguins have reproduced under the care of institutions that chose to use an ON/OFF switch for their lights instead of mimicking the lighting schedules, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) reported enhanced reproductive success with varying annual day length and light intensity.

Ric Urban, Newport Aquarium’s Chief Conservation Officer and a member of the AZA’s Penguin Taxon Advisory Group Steering Committee, said that this also helps the penguins if they’re moved to a new AZA-Accredited institution. It keeps continuity with the penguin and creates a shorter adjustment period inside their new home.IMG_0214

If Newport Aquarium follows the seasons, will guests be able to see the penguins?

Absolutely! We still have lights on in the exhibits which usually start to dim toward the evening hours, around Newport Aquarium closing time. And like Newport Aquarium, most institutions don’t just mimic sunlight, but also moonlight! The illumination is still bright enough for guests to see our penguins waddling and swimming inside.

Guests can see one of the most diverse collections of cold weather penguins at Kroger Penguin Palooza 365 days a year! At Newport Aquarium, we have five species of cold weather penguins under our care: Chinstrap, Gentoo, King, Macaroni, and Southern Rockhopper. Guests can also see our African Penguins with our Penguin Encounter, an additional 20-minute experience inside the penguin house where you can get close and maybe touch one!

Celebrate African Penguin Awareness Day by helping this adorable endangered species

By Madison Wallace, Newport Aquarium PR Aide

NEWPORT, Ky. — If you’ve been to Newport Aquarium, you’ve probably heard about, or even met, one of our beloved African penguins.

Oct. 17 is the perfect day to celebrate these birds with African Penguin Awareness Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness for African penguins and the factors threatening their species.

“African Penguin Awareness Day is an opportunity for us to celebrate these unique birds, along with bringing awareness to their status as an endangered species,” said Ric Urban, chief conservation officer at Newport Aquarium and resident penguin expert.

This international holiday was established by Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), an organization supported by the WAVE Foundation, Newport Aquarium’s nonprofit partner.

African penguins 2

“The Conductor” by Flickr user Roger Smith. Boulders Penguin Colony, Cape Town, South Africa. https://www.flickr.com/photos/wodjamiff/5467655290/in/photostream/

One of SANCCOB’s most significant projects is known as chick bolstering and involves the rescue, rehabilitation and eventual release of African penguin chicks that have been orphaned or injured.

In the wild, these warm-weather penguins can be found living in colonies on the coastal islands that dot the shore of South Africa and Namibia.

They prefer to eat anchovies, sardines and the occasional mollusk, and generally consume 14 percent of their weight in fish daily; the equivalent of a 150-pound person eating 21 pounds of food a day!

What you may not know is that these adorable, tuxedoed birds are endangered.

In the past century, the population of African penguins has plummeted from several million to roughly 30,000 as a result of pollution, global warming, egg harvesting and overfishing off the coast of southern Africa.

This species needs our help.

“If nothing changes, we could see African penguins disappear completely within the next couple of decades,” said Urban.

With an estimated 1,000 African penguins under professional animal care globally, it’s essential that zoos and aquariums across the world work together to help this species in recovering. Because of their drastic population decline, African penguins were one of the first 10 animals named to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) program that launched in May 2015.

Newport Aquarium is home to eight African penguins — Paula, Randi, Simon, Sandy, Speckles, Blueberry, Green Bean and Red Pepper — all of whom were hand-raised, allowing them to bond with humans more easily. This makes them ideal for helping to educate the public about their species.

African penguins at Newport Aquarium

The African penguins at Newport Aquarium. (L-R): Speckles, Paula, Red Pepper, Green Bean (back), Simon (back), Sandy, Randi, Blueberry

As ambassador animals for Newport Aquarium, our African penguins aren’t on exhibit, but guests can meet them by going on a Penguin Encounter, which allows guests to interact with these birds in small groups, along with opening up discussion about this threatened species.

“African Penguins are naturally inquisitive and social,” said Urban. “They’re very curious about people, making them amazing outreach animals. It’s almost impossible to see an African penguin waddling around and not smile in response. There’s something about these birds that people just connect to.”

While both Newport Aquarium and the WAVE Foundation have brought awareness to these birds through community outreach, monetary contributions and knowledge exchange, we need your help.

For African Penguin Awareness Day, there are many simple ways for everyone to help the future of these birds:
•    Experience a Penguin Encounter at Newport Aquarium; a portion of Penguin Encounter ticket proceeds directly to SANCCOB
•    Purchase Penguin Artwork (art by penguins, not of penguins) from the WAVE Foundation; a portion of proceeds benefit African penguins
•    Visit SANCCOB’s website and donate directly to the seabird conservation efforts
•    Spend a couple minutes learning about African penguins, and start the conversation with those around you

These penguins need our help every day, but African Penguin Awareness Day is a great place to start.

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Newport Aquarium has showcased thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water since May 15, 1999. Named one of the best aquariums in the U.S. by Travel Channel and USA Today, 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 located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.

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