9 reasons we ❤️‍ penguins

In honor of Mother’s Day, we’re throwing the spotlight on Adventure Aquarium’s African penguin colony during our Mother’s Day Penguin Weekend, May 9 & 10. African penguins have much in common with us human counterparts; they mate for life and make great parents – each sharing mutual roles in the incubation of their offspring. While there’s much to love about these endangered sea birds, here are 9 of our most favorite reasons:

9 Reasons we ❤️‍ Penguins

Adventure Aquarium welcomes its newest penguin chick! Meet 4-day old “Goblin”

Goblin3We’re excited to introduce to you the newest addition to our growing penguin colony! Meet tiny chick “Goblin” who hatched overnight on October 17 to parents Jack and Diane.


Weighing in at 65 grams (size of a golf ball) at birth, Goblin is doing really well: strong, healthy, very vocal and growing quickly as African penguin chicks do.  In fact, during today’s weigh-in, he doubled his size, measuring in at 146 grams!

Goblin during today's weigh-in

Goblin during today’s weigh-in

Goblin will continue to thrive under the watchful eyes of its penguin parents Jack and Diane, and under the supervision of our biologists and veterinary staff.  Penguin chicks typically take 38-42 days to hatch out of their eggs after they are laid. During an incubation period, both parents will take turns sitting on the egg. After the chick hatches, mom and dad take turns protecting, feeding and keeping the chick warm 2 to 3 days at a time.




Jack and Diane will continue to raise Goblin behind the scenes at Penguin Island, and in a few months will begin the process of starting to be introduced to the exhibit and the other penguins. So stay tuned for updates!

Fun Facts:

  • Goblin is the fourth hatchling for Jack (12 years old) and Diane (14 years old), already parents to 6-year-old Little Ditty, and 1-year-olds Pumpkin and Patch. Penguin watchers may recall that it was just about a year ago to this date that Jack and Diane welcomed penguin chicks Pumpkin and Patch!
  • Coincidentally, Goblin also shares the same birthday as two of our other penguins – Liberty (the very first chick to hatch here at Adventure Aquarium) and Meadow!
  • Biologists won’t know Goblin’s gender until a few months after a blood draw successfully determines whether we have a ‘he’ or ‘she.’
  • Jack and Diane were paired back in 2007 through the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA’s) African penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program that encourages zoos and aquariums to work together to help ensure the survival of African Penguins through a scientifically-controlled breeding program.
  • Since we began working with the program in 1998, Adventure Aquarium has successfully bred and raised nineteen African Black-Footed Penguin chicks (Goblin included!)

Go behind the scenes with some of the animal ‘artists’ at Adventure Aquarium

If you’ve ever participated in one of our penguin encounters or have seen some of their artwork in the gift shop, you know that our African penguins are very good artists. However, have you ever wondered why our penguins paint? Or, what other animals at Adventure Aquarium have taken their turn with paint and canvas? If so this blog entry will answer those questions and have some super cute photos of animals putting paint to canvas!

Minnie Painting with Jamie

Jamie paints with African penguin (and artist!) Minnie

The main reason we paint with our animals is for their enrichment (providing something new or different for the animal to mentally stimulate them or just simply have a different activity in their day). Part of the animals’ benefit through painting is actually the process of learning how to paint. Another reason we paint with the animals is because it’s fun for us too! We can use that time to further bond with the animal or to enhance guest experience in the case of the penguins painting during the encounter programs.

In order to train the penguins to paint, they must first be comfortable being handled by the trainers and taking a bath in the sink afterwards. (All penguins need clean feet before going back on exhibit and some even splatter paint up their bellies!) The next step is to introduce the penguins to the paint tray and canvas and teach them to walk across it in a straight line, although some of our penguins seem to prefer walking in circles across the canvas instead!

Minnie finishes her painting

Minnie finishes her painting

Once comfortable with the routine, the penguins start painting. Eleven penguins of our colony have passed art school and make footprint paintings for our guests and other events. Some of the penguin artwork has helped raise money for their fellow endangered species in the wild during Adventure Aquarium’s African Penguin Awareness Weekend. This is yet another benefit for training the penguins to put paint to canvas.

Another species in the “foot painter” group at Adventure Aquarium is the cape porcupine, brothers Julian and Vince. Both porcupines already knew how to target to a pole and follow it around so the trainers added in the new behaviors of stepping in paint and walking across a canvas. 

Vince is target trained to walk through paint onto canvas.

Vince is target trained to walk through paint onto canvas.

Rule #1 of painting - always clean up afterwards! Vince walks through a foot bath to rinse off his feet.

Rule #1 of painting – always clean up afterwards! Vince walks through a foot bath to rinse off his feet.

And just like the penguins, our porcupines have bath time afterwards too. In order to rinse off their feet, the boys were trained to walk through a tray of water.

Combining both old and new behaviors in a series is great mental stimulation for the porcupines. It also helps the process when they get their favorite treat, banana slices and peas, as their reward. Just look at that happy face!

You may not have guessed our last big painters, but believe it or not, our trainers have actually taught hippos Button and Genny to paint too! Instead of making footprint art, these girls paint with their muzzle and whiskers. Just like training the porcupines, our hippos started out with behaviors they already knew – such as resting their head on ballards, targeting, and “touch,” a cue given to let the girls know when they will be touched. Then the trainers added to the “touch” behavior by applying paint to the hippo’s muzzle.

hippo painting_484x252


Once the paint is applied the hippo can target to the canvas, ending with a unique whiskered face print! Button and Genny even look forward to the clean-up and enjoy being sprayed off with the hose. Also like the porcupines, the girls are quite excited to work for treats, which are given after the painting is made to avoid food bits in their art.

Hope you enjoyed seeing some of our artists in action! 

By: Jamie Hogan, Biologist – Birds & Mammals

How our biologists use everyday items to strengthen the bonds of our penguin pairs

By: Jenn Hutchins, Biologist – Birds & Mammals

Hi everyone this is Cliff, one of our 24 resident African black-footed penguins.  Cliff is 26 years old and he lives at Adventure Aquarium with his mate Mouse.

Clif Penguin Enrichment

Throughout the week the keepers like giving the penguin colony different types of enrichment.  One of the main things we like to give the penguins are items of different shapes and sizes to bring back to their nests and to help show off for their mates.

Clif Penguin Enrichment3

Here at the aquarium we give the penguins a variety of items to carry around such as whiffle balls, plastic chains, small children toys, and small dog toys.  In this picture Cliff has one of his favorite “toys” -a yellow plastic chain that he takes back to his nest and shows off for Mouse.

Clif Penguin Enrichment4

When a penguin brings an item back to the nest both mates get really excited and put on a visual and vocal display.  They can also be seen sitting on different toys as if it is an egg.  Giving these items to the penguins is very important to stimulate breeding behavior and create a stronger bond between mates.

Clif Penguin Enrichment2

Learn more about some of the incredible, endangered species at Adventure Aquarium

Today is Endangered Species Day, a time for people of all ages to learn about endangered species and how everyday actions can be taken to protect them. Since the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, great strides have been made in efforts to protect endangered and threatened species, but there is much more to be done. The more we learn about the delicate balance of ecosystems, the clearer it becomes how important it is to protect even the tiniest creatures from extinction. Adventure Aquarium is proud to be a safe home to many species that are increasingly threatened in the wild due to human interference.

“While many efforts have been made across the board to protect endangered species, counteracting the destruction of necessary habitats and the decline of certain threatened species in the wild often seems an impossible task,” said Jen Duffy, Senior Biologist. “Adventure Aquarium is proud to do our part to protect endangered species both through rehabilitation and release programs, and participation in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Programs (SSP).  We simply can’t afford to give up on this fight, for the future of the many species threatened by human behavior and the future of our children.”

Adventure Aquarium is committed to protecting endangered species by teaching guests of all ages the importance of conservation and each animal’s role in the overall ecosystem. By participating in SSPs—captive breeding and management programs that try to preserve species that are endangered in the wild—we’re able to contribute to field conservation efforts and species recovery. Get to know a few of our endangered species:

African Penguins

AAQ Penguins2

Adult African penguins on Penguin Island at Adventure Aquarium

Some of our most popular residents are part of an SSP: the adorable African black-footed penguins, including recent hatchlings Pumpkin, Patch, Saba and Cornelius. In the wild, African penguin populations have drastically plummeted, with 40 percent of the population affected by water pollution. Since 1998, the Aquarium has successfully bred and raised nineteen African black-footed penguin chicks, while the population has decreased from 200,000 to only 55,000 in the wild. If this steep decline is not halted, the African penguin could be extinct within 15-years.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles

Tortuga as a tiny hatchling

Rescue and Rehab Loggerhead sea turtle Tortuga, as a tiny hatchling

We also work to help protect declining Loggerhead sea turtle populations by partnering with the North Carolina Aquarium’s Loggerhead Sea Turtle Loan Program. Once intensively hunted for their meat and eggs, Loggerheads are now threatened by fishing gear that entangles them and beach development that takes away nesting sites. Sea turtle hatchlings are often too weak to dig their way out to the ocean or confused by artificial light sources that they mistake for the sun. Adventure Aquarium takes in these tiny turtles to rehabilitate them and release them in to the ocean once they reach a healthy adult weight. One of these success stories is Tortuga, who only weighed in at 0.2 pounds when he arrived at Adventure Aquarium, and is now well on his way toward a potential release date of fall 2014.

Orinoco Crocodiles

Orinoco crocodiles Sofia and Lola

Orinoco crocodiles Sofia and Lola

Orinoco crocodiles are a critically endangered species whose numbers dwindled so considerably in the last century that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has estimated their wild population at only 250-1,500. It’s also rare to see them in zoos and aquariums. Their presence at Adventure Aquarium marks the first time they have been exhibited in the Northeast.


Bizarre-looking, endangered axolotls

Bizarre-looking, endangered axolotls

The axolotl is an extraordinary little amphibious creature, native to central Mexico. Known for their incredible ability to completely regenerate entire limbs—a unique feature that has made them important for scientific research, they seem to have disappeared from the wild completely. Urbanization of the lakes where they live in Mexico has threatened wild axolotl populations so severely that a four-month long search in 2013 turned up no surviving individuals.

These incredible animals all deserve better. Join us for a visit to learn more about these and more endangered creatures that call Adventure Aquarium home and how you can help to protect them. Find out more at www.AdventureAquarium.com.

Spotlight on penguin ‘moms’ Diane and Minnie

With so much attention this weekend on our juvenile penguins Saba, Cornelius, Pumpkin and Patch, it seemed like the perfect time to throw some spotlight on the 20-something-inch birds that brought them into the world!

Enter penguin “moms” Diane and Minnie, full-time residents of Penguin Island at Adventure Aquarium!

Diane and Minnie - 2

Penguin moms Diane and Minnie

At 18 years old, Minnie is the older of the two and is a veteran penguin mom, having hatched – with the help of partner Kamikaze – a whopping 8 chicks, including Myer, Jack and Jambo, as well as Saba and Cornelius who hatched back in January.

Cornelius and Saba

Cornelius and Saba

Interestingly, Minnie is also the mother-in-law of to 13 year old Diane. Diane (and her partner Jack) have had three penguins hatch at Adventure Aquarium, including 5-year old Little Ditty, and Pumpkin and Patch, who hatched last October. For those of you keeping track at home; yes – that also makes Minnie the grandmother to Pumpkin and Patch!

Pumpkin and Patch

Pumpkin and Patch

Life as a penguin mom

A penguin mom gets to work the moment they lay an egg.  Mom (and dad, too!) take turns sitting on the egg, incubating it for about five weeks (35-40 days). During this time, they keep careful and continuous watch to protect their egg until it’s ready to hatch.  And after the chick hatches, mom and dad keep it warm by continuing to brood over it, and nourished through regurgitation. This continues for about a month until the little one is old enough to take care of itself.

More than just a mom, but a V.I.P. 

Aside from having hatched adorable penguin chicks, moms Diane and Minnie have played a very significant role in the continuation of their species, through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA’s) African penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP). Roughly 200,000 African penguins existed in 2000, but today’s population is estimated to be only about 55,000. If the decline is not halted, the African penguin could be extinct within 15 years. But thanks to the SSP – a program that encourages zoos and aquariums to work together to help ensure the survival of African Penguins through a scientifically-controlled breeding program – and efforts from fellow penguin moms like Diane and Minnie, there are significant efforts to try and reverse that trend so that this species can continue to thrive in the wild.

Biologist Chris Felts introduces you to everything you’ve ever wanted to know about animal enrichment!

By: Chris Felts, Biologist

When you think about zoos and aquariums, I’m sure the first thing that comes to mind are all the amazing animals you see when you visit. At Adventure Aquarium alone we have hippos, penguins, sea turtles, sharks, crocodiles, parrots, frogs, jellies and approximately a bajillion fish, all under one roof! All those animals need proper care, but have you ever thought about what that means? Sure, some things are pretty simple; every animal needs food, the right water source and some kind of shelter, but what about an animal’s more complicated needs? What about their mental stimulation? How do you exercise an animal’s brain? Well, it’s not quite as complicated as you might think and involves a process called enrichment.

Enrichment is one of those buzz words that sounds like a big to-do, but it’s actually pretty easy to understand and you probably already do it at home with your cat or dog. It’s all about mixing stuff up, adding things to an animal’s environment or changing the way normal bits of their routine are presented. Since Adventure Aquarium is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), we must be just as meticulous about providing our animals with mental stimulation as we are about caring for their physical well-being, and over the years we’ve developed many different bits of enrichment. Since our enrichment isn’t too far a jump from what you do with your pets at home, we thought it would be cool to show you some of things we’ve found our animals to enjoy.

…through the tried and true method of cute blog-worthy pictures, of course.

In the upcoming months we’ll be posting blogs that focus more on individual animals at the Aquarium and their favorite enrichment, but today’s post is more on an introduction to the subject, sort of a crash course on animal enrichment. Animal Brain Exercise 101, if you will. Let’s start with the basics, the six different types of enrichment.

Food Enrichment

Animal Enrichment-Food

Everyone likes food, right? Of course they do, and in changing how food is presented to our animals we can encourage them to forage and work for their food just like they would in their natural environment. Sometimes we’ll even give them something new and exciting to eat, a special treat that can make a parrot whistle with glee!

Sensory Enrichment

Animal Enrichment-sensory

How many times has your dog suddenly stopped to investigate a curious smell? Enough to give your leash arm a strain, I bet. New sights, sounds, and smells are just as interesting to your dog as they are to armadillos, hippos, penguins and many other animals. How you introduce that sensory information can happen any numbers of ways; maybe through a television, maybe a disco ball, maybe a cd player armed with rainforest noises. Maybe a cardboard box your brother porcupine peed on. The possibilities are limitless.

Manipulation Enrichment

Animal Enrichment-manipulation

This type of enrichment can be simple or complex. For some animals a box they can rip to shreds or a scratching post they can sharpen their claws on can be very enriching. Other animals, like primates, octopus, and parrots, are very intelligent and capable of changing and manipulating their environment using complex digits. Giving these animals puzzles that yield rewards after being solved can be a great way to exercise their brains. If those rewards happen to be food, then you’ve got two types of enrichment in one! Bonus points!

Environmental Enrichment

Animal Enrichment - Penguin

An animal’s environment can technically include anything and everything around it, but when you’re talking about enrichment you tend to be concerned with the bigger changes you can make, like bringing an animal to a different location for a short period of time. Some of our parrots, for example, love going to different areas of the aquarium, and even sitting in on our husbandry meetings.

Social Enrichment

Trinidad_4.14.142 (2)

In especially social species of animals, the ones that hang out in large groups, social interaction and enrichment are an important part of their lives. Often times at the Aquarium, we find ourselves as part of the social equation. It sounds a little cliché, but we do make friends with our animals and they do get enjoyment and mental stimulation out of seeing their favorite Biologists, just like your dog is always excited to see you come home from work. For a specific example, in the picture above, Amy is petting Trinidad, our largest parrot. He doesn’t exactly allow anyone to just do that; Amy has built up a relationship over the course of several years to the point that Trinidad demands scratchies from her.


Animal Enrichment-Training

Yep, training is enrichment. We do a lot of training at Adventure Aquarium, providing quite a bit of mental stimulation for our animals, while at the same time allowing the Biologists to take better care of them. Beyond asking for a parrot to say, “Hello”, or one of our hippos to open their mouth, training can also facilitate other forms of enrichment. Training a penguin or a porcupine to go into a crate allows us to take them elsewhere, which as I previously mentioned leads to environmental enrichment. Conversely, training also gives you an avenue with which to introduce other forms of enrichment as a reward, like giving a Parrot a whole peanut as food enrichment for an especially good job well done.

And those are the six kinds of enrichment. Not too complicated right? Now that we’ve gone over that, look for more enrichment blogs in the near future!

Penguin keeper Chris Felts sheds light on those ‘other kinds of eggs’

By: Chris Felts

Chris is a biologist on the Birds & Mammals team at Adventure Aquarium, and works directly with our African penguins. His study on penguin egg data was recently published in the “Penguin Conservation – Penguin Taxon Advisory Group Newsletter.”

Happy Easter everyone! We here at Adventure Aquarium appreciate chocolate Easter eggs just as much as anybody (and caramel eggs and peanut butter eggs and malted milk balls…) but being penguin biologists we’ve also got a big interest in penguin eggs and little baby chicks. Thankfully we don’t have to wait for the Easter Bunny to deliver because we’ve got an entire colony of African Penguins that lay eggs all year round!

As a facility that participates in the African Penguin SSP (that’s Species Survival Plan), we’re very curious about when and how often our penguins lay eggs, as well as the size of the eggs that are produced. So far we’ve found that our colony lays eggs that weigh about 90 grams or so, or a little over 3 ounces.

Chris shows off a sample penguin egg

Chris shows off a sample penguin egg

Usually our penguins will lay two eggs in a set, the second 3 or 4 days after the first. As for how often our penguins lay, we’ve found that it varies pretty wildly for each bird. Miss Minnie (#5) likes spring and early winter and might lay 3 different sets of eggs in a single year! Old lady Sheridan (#6) on the other hand, seems to lay whenever she wants but not all that often. As you can tell, each of our penguins is very unique and it took a lot of work to determine what their individual laying patterns were. Thankfully, now that we’ve completed our investigations, we can use this information to help our colony raise as many penguin chicks as possible, in ways you might not expect.

egg hatching

For example, sometimes a penguin pair may be a little inexperienced on how to properly care for their egg or chick and that’s where it’s our job to help them out. Since we know when our other penguins are most likely to want to raise eggs, sometimes we’ll let a more experienced pair of penguins take care of eggs laid by a pair that’s not really certain what to do. A short 42 days later and those adoptive parents will be raising a newborn chick, adorably cute and hungry for fish!

Day old Adventure Aquarium chick

Day old Adventure Aquarium chick Saba, with unhatched Cornelius in the background

So rest assured that the penguin biologists of Adventure Aquarium and the African Penguins in our care remain ever vigilant and on the lookout for new penguin eggs, just as you and yours will be on the hunt for Easter eggs this holiday.

Happy Easter! Enjoy these photos and video of our penguins enjoying some particularly timely enrichment – exploring and “hunting” for plastic Easter eggs on Penguin Island:





And the adorable video of the hunt, below:


Catching up with Adventure Aquarium’s juvenile penguins

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in our newest penguin chicks: 7 month old siblings Pumpkin and Patch, and 4 month old siblings Cornelius and Saba. One look at the “crew” and you will need to do a double-take. Almost overnight they’ve gone from being tiny, fluffy chicks to nearly full-grown penguins!

Juvenile Penguins_April10

Since the weather has been warming up, they’ve been spending the majority of their time outside.  In fact, they’re almost completely integrated with the rest of the colony – a big step, since the ability to “play nice with others” is a milestone in penguin maturation.

Enjoying enrichment with a penguin favorite - the 'red stick'

Enjoying enrichment with a penguin favorite – the ‘red stick’

4-month old Cornelius and Saba

4-month olds Cornelius and Saba

7-month olds Pumpkin and Patch

7-month olds Pumpkin and Patch

"The Crew"

“The Crew” checks things out, outside

Another major milestone in behavioral training was that Pumpkin, Patch, Cornelius and Saba each took their first swims. During their swimming “lessons” a biologist goes in the water with them, guiding them and ensuring the safety of the birds.

In case you missed it, check out our video capturing the moment below:

As you would guess – the penguins LOVE swimming! And thanks to the recent bout of springlike conditions, these warm weather-loving birds have been passing the day away by swimming in the pool at Penguin Island.

Be sure to watch a live penguin feed during your next visit! Daily at 11:15 am (and 3:45 on Saturdays and Sundays), biologists feed our penguins on deck. You won’t want to miss the juveniles as they get in on the action. Chowing down capelin, herring and squid. In total, they consume 20% of their body weight in ONE sitting!

Big changes happening on Penguin Island! Cassie the penguin completes her first official molt.

Cassie7Do you recognize this penguin? Why it’s the one and only Cassie (or as you may know her by her other alias – Casanova). If she looks a tad different than the last time you saw her, it’s for good reason; because – big news – she just completed her first official molt!

A molt occurs when a bird’s feathers are pushed out and replaced by new ones, a process that occurs every year.  Unlike other bird species that shed a few feathers during the year, African Penguins actually undergo what is called a ‘catastrophic molt’, a 20 day period during which time each penguin loses all of its feathers at one time.

Before and after molt

And for 15-month old Cassie, this first molt means she says goodbye to her gray and white juvenile plumage, and hello to her new set of feathers.


At an about 95% complete molt, Cassie still has a couple days until her feathers are totally in, but as you can see – with her new black and white colors, she officially looks like an adult penguin.


Like fingerprints on humans or stripes on a zebra, African penguin chest patterns – including the lines and spots – are unique to each individual penguin.


Want to spot Cassie during your visit? Ask a biologist to point her out at Penguin Island!