A few weeks ago team members Tessa and Brooke went on a tide-pooling trip to Pillar Point Harbor with the goal of increasing the invertebrate population of the Academy’s penguin pool. Pillar Point Harbor is a protected harbor along the San Mateo County California Coast at the very northern edge of Half Moon Bay. It was a beautiful day and we had a great time!
We were also very successful and brought back 31 purple urchins Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and 50 ochre stars Pisaster ochraceus for the exhibit. Below is a picture of Tessa using a spoon to gently remove urchins:
Tide-pools are areas of the coastline that are covered and then uncovered with seawater each day by the high and low tides. Exploring tide-pools is a great way to see an incredible variety of organisms but it’s important to remember that these are very delicate ecosystems which can be easily damaged by human activity. When tide-pooling it’s imperative to look but not touch in order to avoid disturbing marine life. Please note that the Academy collects only under a Department of Fish and Game permit; we also have the expertise to safely remove, transport, house and care for any animals we gather.
Below is a picture of Tessa and Brooke with some of the ochre stars they collected:
Note the sea palms Postelsia palmaeformis growing on the rocks in the background. This is a type of kelp and is one of only a few types of algae that’s able to survive and remain erect out of water. We were thrilled to see this protected species thriving in its native habitat.
It was a long, exciting day that was well worth the effort. Aside from adding a dynamic visual element to the penguin display the invertebrates we gathered have a functional role. The sea stars will consume fish that are dropped by penguins during feeding time and the urchins are great algae eaters. In addition to what we collected, that same week we added 15 farm-raised red abalone Haliotis rufescens. The abalone need larger types of algae than what grows naturally in the exhibit so during weekly maintenance dives (usually performed on Thursday afternoons) check out the under-water camera and you may see each one of them being offered a piece of macroalgae by hand.
All in all, quite an exciting time on the invertebrate front!
Last Sunday Ocio and Safara (our red-banded couple) were re-introduced to the colony following a stay in the “love shack” to encourage pair bonding between them. This was the pair’s second stay off-exhibit together and, although they don’t seem to be spending time with each other of their own accord yet, progress was definitely made. During their first stay the two were almost completely uninterested in each other and never occupied their nest box at the same time. By the end of this most recent trip the two were almost constantly following each other around and were often seen in the nest box together. Hopefully over the next few weeks we’ll see them gravitate back towards each other but, if not, we’ll try again once things with the rest of the colony have settled down in terms of territories and mates. Ocio and Safara are young birds (5 and 4 years old, respectively) as are about half of the birds currently in our colony. African penguins reach sexual maturity in the wild at anywhere from 2-6 years of age so it’s not unexpected for our youngsters to take some additional time to form solid pair bonds.
Here are some close-ups of the two from this week:
In other news Pierre (blue-banded male) is 28 years old and is our oldest penguin. He’s also our most famous. If you haven’t read it yet there’s a great book called Pierre the Penguin which chronicles Pierre’s adventure wearing the first custom fit wet-suit for a penguin. A few years ago Pierre did not undergo his yearly molt as usual. As a result his feathers continued to wear down and, eventually, he became bald over the majority of his body. He was cold, shivering, wasn’t able to swim comfortably and was being picked on by the other penguins. His wetsuit improved the quality of his life tremendously and he was eventually able to re-grow his own feathers. He’s molted successfully since then and is currently about 2/3rds of the way finished with the process for this year.
He was not amenable to having his picture taken so here’s one of him trying to get some privacy in his nest:
This Saturday, October 8th, is African Penguin Awareness Day!
Our African monitor is aware!
Exciting new research by Daniel Ksepka and Daniel Thomas shows that at least three species of penguins have independently colonized Africa in the past. Today only one of those species, Spheniscus demersus, survives. Unfortunately, the future does not look very bright for them either making a day like this more important than ever. Population levels for this species in the wild have plummeted by over 90% in the past hundred years and they are now considered to be endangered, meaning that there is indeed a real risk they won’t be around for much longer in the wild at all.
Devoting a day to them should mean devoting ourselves to learning as much as we can about these charismatic critters and pledging to treat our planet as best we can. Penguins are generally considered to be a good sentinel species for the ocean environment. This means that their relative well-being is a good indicator of the health of the overall ecosystem; the challenges facing penguins are not really unique to penguins. They suffer from over-arching problems like over-fishing, climate change, habitat loss, introduced predators and, particularly for the African penguin, oil pollution. To quote the eminent Lloyd Spencer Davis, “Saving penguins is not really about saving penguins; it is about saving every living thing–all of us.”
Come celebrate with the Academy’s own penguin colony and make your own African penguin craft in the Naturalist Center on October 7th and 8th:
There will also be a Specimen Spotlight on African penguins in front of the Project Lab at 11:30 am on Friday, October 7th.
Long live the African penguin!
It’s been a month full of feathers for the Academy’s colony! Fifteen out of seventeen of our birds have completed their yearly molts and look sleek and shiny. Homey (blue-banded female) is finishing up her molt while her mate Pierre (blue-banded male) is showing signs of getting started. Some of you have expressed concern about Homey’s appearance; Homey has always been a funny molter and tends to lose and replace her feathers in a pattern different from the rest. Her feathers are growing in just fine and we expect her new feathers to be all grown in by the end of this week. Please see the photo below for an up-close look at her progress:
Pierre’s appearance is also worth noticing. He’s been eating significantly more than usual over the past couple of weeks and has really been bulking up. Over the past few days his feathers have started loosening up and we just removed his wing-band this afternoon. Keep an eye on the penguin cams over the next few weeks to follow his progress through the molting process.
The fashion runways of New York, Milan, Paris and London are all featuring feathers as one of the season’s top trends. Feathers are, of course, always “in” for penguins and are indeed crucial for them staying warm enough underwater while they search for food. Penguin feathers are highly adapted to provide this insulation but, unfortunately, wear down over time and need to be replaced. Penguins get this process done all at once with what’s called a catastrophic molt.
It’s a slow, arduous process that each penguin must go through about once per year and takes weeks to complete. New feathers are manufactured beneath the skin and essentially push the old feathers out as they grow in. Although there tends to be a pattern in which the molt proceeds penguins often sport some pretty unique feather-do’s, many of which are quite amusing.
Adasha (our beige-banded female) is shown below finishing up her molt last week, eschewing the common disheveled look in favor of a very trendy feather shawl:
Almost all of our birds have now gone through their molt for the year. Dyer (blue/white banded male) and Grendel (yellow male) are just starting to swell up and have had their bands removed. Out with the old and in with the new!