Tuesday 7 July 2020

Waddling down memory lane

I accept that it's inconsistent to be snarking about it being so cold today at the same time as wishing I was back in Antarctica, but I answer to no-one here, it's my blog so suck it up. (Sorry, made crabby by internet dropping out, leaving me unable to snap back at some self-important PR man throwing doubt on my having been somewhere I'd just written about because of a minor error that wasn't actually my fault.) (Also, sad because today I should be in Reykjavik about to begin a cruise tomorrow with Seabourn.)
Let's start again. I've been writing today about a visit to Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium here in Auckland. It has been in existence since 1985 and of course I've been several times before, but it was my first experience there getting up close with penguins. Regular 😀 readers will know that I have actually been up close with many, many penguins: in South Georgia and Antarctica, back at Christmastime in 2017.
I had the huge pleasure then, thanks to Silversea, of getting remarkably close to about eleven different species of penguins, in colonies tens of thousands of pairs strong. And boy! The pong sure was strong. It was very noisy too - but I loved it, every moment, watching the birds going about their business, being curious and funny and cute and beautiful, and it was the highlight of a cruise that was already the highlight of all the trips I've done.
So it was just lovely to get a little taste of that again, thanks to Kelly Tarlton's. They have 78 penguins, currently, King and Gentoo, a few of them an amazing 32 years old, survivors from the first birds to arrive here, from San Diego and Edinburgh. Of course I was a bit worried about their mental health, being confined to a space indoors, underground (the aquarium is built inside former sewage tanks). My guides were predictably, but apparently genuinely, reassuring that the birds don't miss the challenges of hunting food, evading orcas and leopard seals, hunkering down through appalling weather, and covering long distances doing most of that. They reckoned that being sociable was much more their style, and they spend their days happily doing exactly that - plus preening, pooing and napping.
I got all togged up backstage in winter gear and gumboots, and went out into the penguin enclosure, which is kept at -2 degrees, with carefully controlled lighting to mimic Antarctic conditions, seasons and times of day. As soon as the door was opened, some curious Gentoo penguins pushed in to inspect me, and all the time (20 minutes) I was in there, there were penguins getting very personal, in my face and pecking at my clothes.
The same thing had happened in Antarctica - no-one told the penguins about the 5-metre rule, and the chicks especially were bored waiting for their parents to return with a feed, and happy to find a diversion - but at Kelly Tarlton's I got super-close to them and was able to inspect and admire the gloriously subtle shading of the King penguins' golden feathers. Ten thousand feathers, they each have, apparently - makes keeping the ice clean at moulting time a real challenge. And that's on top (literally) of the poo that gets hosed off every morning before fresh snow is sprayed in. We were there just an hour after the mucking out and already there were yellow stains everywhere.

Penguin keeper Kristen brought in a squashy ball for them to play with, and they did enjoy it - there was inter-species competition for it, to the fascination of the two downy King penguin chicks. Playing ball with penguins - definitely up there on the travel skite list.
Oh, and KT's also rehabilitates injured turtles, before returning them to the wild. Their latest patient is Taka, an East Pacific green turtle that turned up on Takapuna beach, cold and hungry, and way off course from the Galapagos where it would normally hang out. *cough* I've been there, of course, and seen turtles. Maybe even a relation?

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