Dear mummy, while we were at Marwell Wildlife (Zoo) over the Bank Holiday weekend, we popped into Penguin Cove to meet the zoo keepers and learn more about the wonderful Humboldt Penguins. Penguin Cove at Marwell Zoo opened on 22 May 2012, for their 40th Anniversary. It keeps all the fluffy penguins safe and is their home. The original enclosure had been there since 1997 and the first Humboldt penguins arrived at Marwell in March 2000 from a variety of zoos.
Penguin Cove has been specially designed to incorporate a ‘dry’ and a ‘wet’ beach, with specific grasses and plants on the banks. Behind the enclosure is a picnic and play area for visitors, so little ones like me can eat sandwiches and watch the penguins. The penguin’s pool is an irregular shape to make the underwater environment more interesting and boy! is it interesting!! Underneath the pool Marwell have created a cave which allows children and disabled guests to see the penguins swim under the water. It’s very therapeutic and relaxing down here and the penguins swim up very close to the large windows due to the currents created by the filtration systems. Around Penguin Cove they have wide footpaths and slopes to provide easy access for buggies. I like the way Marwell Wildlife have produced large graphics of the penguins and great fun facts on the walls.
My daddy loves penguins, especially in the film Happy Feet (Shhhh don’t tell anyone or he’ll become embarrassed) so when the opportunity arose to interview the penguin keepers we jumped at the chance! We met Amanda, Lisa and Amy who are the penguins carers. They luurvee penguins and are very knowledgable and friendly. I write the questions for my mummy to ask them as I’m interested to find out more about our feathered friends. I can’t talk yet so mummy conducts the interview. Amanda, Lisa and Lucy have 11 years of experience at the zoo between them so they are bound to know the answers to my questions!
Q1. Why is there no ice at Penguin Cove? Surely penguins love the cold and ice?
Not these penguins they all reply in unison. Amanda informs us that Humboldt Penguins are named after the current that flows along the west coast of America, discovered by 18th-century explorer Alexander von Humboldt. These penguins originate from Chile and Peru, on rocky shores near cliffs. Unlike antarctic penguins, Humboldt’s live in hot, dry conditions. The ideal air temperatures for Humboldt penguins range from 32 degrees to 70 degrees, while their ideal water temperatures range from 25 degrees to 75 degrees. Wow mummy I think, that’s kinda hot. So that explains why there is no ice at Penguin Cove!
Q2. What’s an interesting fact about these penguins?
We find out that Humboldt Penguins are one of the most timid species of penguins and are very friendly, which is good as I like friendly people too! Humboldt Penguins can live up to 20 years in the wild, and up to 30 years in zoos. Wow mummy that seems like a long time for such small creatures. Arctic Penguins group together for warmth, Humboldt Penguins group together because they like ‘free hugs’ and because staying in a group protects them from predators.
Humboldt Penguins, like other penguin species, are black and white for defensive reasons. If a penguin is underwater and you look down at it, the black blends in with the ocean floor, and it’s harder to see them. And if you are underneath the penguin and look up, the white bellies blend in with the light coming from above the water. Cool camouflage my mummy thinks! It would be tough to play hide-and-seek with a penguin underwater, I think…
Q3. What do they eat? And who eats them?
Humboldt’s feed on fish. Their mouth and tongue is lined with fleshy, backward pointing spines, which help in holding on to wriggling fish. If food becomes scarce, the adults only feed the larger chicks. Oh no mummy! What about the poor little weak chicks?!? Surely they need food too? My mummy sighs and tells me it’s a ‘dog eat dog’ world out there. They too get hunted. In the wild they need to watch out for Seals, Sharks and Killer Whales as they love to eat penguins!
Q4. How fast can they swim?
Penguins’ torpedo-shaped bodies are designed for moving efficiently through water and they can reach speeds of 20 miles per hour. They use their wings to help them swim, and their webbed feet to steer, allowing them to ‘fly’ under the water. Coooool.
Q5. Are these penguins endangered?
Lisa tells us it’s not easy being a Humboldt penguin. They face a number of natural and man-made hazards. They are food for a lot of other animals and weather conditions also pose problems. When the El Nino climatic effect raises the temperature of the sea, it reduces the penguins’ food supply. El Nino in 1982/83 caused the loss of 65% of the Peruvian population of Humboldt penguins! Commercial fishermen also deplete the Humboldts’ food source and also kill large numbers of penguins that become entangled in fishing nets. Humans also hunt Humboldt’s for food, and take eggs from breeding sites 😦 Marwell have a great conservation scheme set up and you can visit here for more information.
Q6. Mummy says these penguins can blush! Is this true?
Amy informs us that yes they can! When they get too hot they have to avoid over-heating. So they flush pink on their face, wings and feet. This sheds body heat by sending blood to the bare part of their bodies! Humboldt Penguin’s coverage of feathers is patchy hence that’s why you can see fleshy pink bits.
Q7. Do these penguins have to wear goggles?
No. Amanda tells us that Humboldt Penguins’ eyes are adapted for underwater vision, but they can still see adequately out of the pool. Their eyes have a second transparent eyelid, serving as “goggles” while the penguins are underwater as it requires different eyesight than the one we’re used to. Penguin eyes are sensitive to the colours of the sea such as violets, blues, and greens.
Q8. Do these penguins dance like in the film Happy Feet?
No, but they are very sociable. Oh 😦 Daddy will be disappointed I think… However Amy tells us, they like to gather in large colonies on land to nest and moult. They will also form small hunting parties at sea. Safety in numbers eh? …Who knows, when no-one is looking they may do flash dances?! *wishful thinking*
Q9. How do they talk to each other?
Penguins are highly social birds and have a well developed system of communication, both visual and vocal. Individuals’ calls are distinguishable, enabling partners to recognise each other and their chicks in the midst of the colony. The Humboldt Penguins have 3 main calls – a contact call, a display call and a threat call. They also can identify each other through scent and the oil used to preen feathers which gives them each a unique smell. Up close they also communicate with body language. Maybe they do a funky dance I think. 🙂
Q10. What are there names? And who is the oldest?
Ralph is the oldest at 15 years, he’s also a mini celebrity round these parts, Amanda informs us, due to the funky wetsuit he wears!
So why does Ralph wear a wetsuit?
As with all penguins, the Humboldt’s are both flightless and aquatic. Penguins have specialised feathers and each year they undergo a complete moult. The new feather grows underneath the old ones, forcing them out, meaning that the old feathers are not discarded until the new ones are in place. Ralph has problems with moulting. During his annual moult, Ralph loses his feathers quicker than other penguins, leaving him exposed to the elements and blushing!! For the past five years, Ralph has had a wetsuit to protect him from the sun and keep him warm on colder evenings. Visit his page here! Wow mummy these penguins are real characters!
It’s time to draw the interview to a close, the penguin keepers need to crack on with looking after the penguins. We wave goodbye and head to the underwater cave to watch the penguins swim. Thanks Marwell for giving me the opportunity to talk to the very friendly penguin ladies.
We hope you liked reading about our trip to Penguin Cove at Marwell, remember to take in one of the animal talks when you visit Marwell too, times are listed on their website.
Marwell also has a penguin webcam so you never miss a second of the penguin action and you can check up on Ralph and his friends.