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African Penguin Awareness Day!

By: Noel, Sea Otter Trainer


We just wrapped up celebrating sea otters during a whole week of national awareness and now it is time to celebrate another awesome animal in our aquarium: the African penguin!! October 8th is National African Penguin Awareness Day!

Most people tend to think that all penguins live in cold climates like the Arctic or Antarctica. In reality, penguins do not live in the Northern Hemisphere (so no penguin and polar bear fun!-sorry!) and of the 18 species of penguins only 2 live permanently in Antarctica! Most penguins are found in “temperate zones” and one is found very close to the equator. The African Penguin is distributed along the south and southwest coasts of Africa from Namibia to South Africa and are the only penguin that breeds on the continent.

The  African Penguin is a smaller penguin weighing anywhere from 5 to 11 lbs. and measuring about 27 inches long. African penguins are monogamous and colonies will nest in the same site every year. They will make a nest by scraping away guano or sand and lay a clutch, usually of 2 eggs. Parents will take turns over the next 40 days incubating. After hatching, chicks will be heavily guarded by at least 1 parent at all times for the first 30 days before joining the colony. After another 60-120 days the chick will fledge and leave mom and dad to become independent.  African Penguins can live anywhere from 10-15 years in the wild and life expectancy is substantially longer in captivity.

The  African Penguin is considered an endangered species. In 1911, population counts estimated there were 1.5 million birds living along Africa’s southern coastline. Today counts estimate 75,000 individuals remain. That means in the last 100 years the population has declined by 95%!

African penguins face a lot of threats, almost entirely from man. Up until recently, penguin eggs were considered a delicacy and it was common practice to smash any eggs a few days before gathering to ensure only fresh eggs were taken. Penguins have also been directly affected by commercial fishing and climate change which has forced penguins to search for prey further and further offshore as food becomes more scarce and of less nutritional value.

Penguins are also directly affected by pollutants, such as oil. If oil gets into their feathers they lose their weatherproofing and can become hypothermic which will eventually be fatal. In June 2000 an iron tanker sank off the coast of South Africa, releasing 1,300 tons of fuel into the water at the height of one of the best breeding seasons the African penguin had seen in years. 19,000 birds were oiled and an additional 19,500 were transported to an island before they could become oiled giving crews enough time to clean the water and coastline. Due in large part to volunteers the colonies directly affected were able to re-establish after the clean up.

Penguins need our help, which is why we have a day devoted. Here are some ways we can help penguins:

  1. Reduce Reuse and Recycle
  2. Pick up trash and actively choose not to litter.
  3. Help slow climate change by making active choices to reduce your energy consumption.
  4. Volunteer your time with conservation groups.
  5. Adopt a penguin at the Audubon Aquarium.

Here at the aquarium we house 28  African Penguins and 3 Rockhopper Penguins. They enjoy a hearty diet of capelin, often eating up to a pound of food a day. You can see their feed while enjoying an educational talk at 10:30am and 3:00pm daily. Stop by and see us on October 8th for other fun activities!

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