Animal Medical Center & Penguin Exhibit

Yesterday I spent the day with the NEAQ Animal Medical Center’s veterinarians. Dr.Charlie Innis and Dr.Julie Cavin welcomed me into their medical center and gave me an inside look at what being a veterinarian is all about! Charlie has an entire staff dedicated to maintaining the highest standards of care for the animals at the Aquarium. I immediately became part of the team when a penguin came into the medical center for an endoscopy. The penguin was having difficulty swallowing and had been ignoring her food recently so they wanted to examine her digestive tract. Once the bird had been given anesthesia she calmed down and a small camera was inserted into her esophagus, which relayed a live video stream to the monitor in the examining room. It turned out that she had ulcers in her stomach and the vets prescribed her medication and altered her diet to improve her condition. This penguin was over thirty years old, which is a very impressive age for a bird that only lives to about fifteen in the wild. Later in the day I helped the medical staff with the necropsy of a Bangghi Cardinalfish that had an inflated swim bladder. Aquariums and zoos often preform necropsies to determine the cause of death in order to prevent a similar situation from occurring with another one of their animals on exhibit. The next project for the day was draining the harbor seal exhibit in order to give Amelia, one of the beloved harbor seals on display, an annual check-up! She was lifted out of her exhibit in a makeshift dog crate and then we gave her a full examination in the marine mammals center!

Today I was working with the staff from the Penguin exhibit! I met Andrea in the penguin office and she spent the morning with me conducting food preparation with the volunteers and teaching me about penguin behavior and physiology. We then got suited up to feed the penguins in the exhibit! NEAQ has three distinct species on display including the Rockhopper, African and Little Blue penguins. Each species faces unique threats in the wild depending upon their native range, which includes Patagonia, South Africa and Australia/New Zealand. Shifting ocean currents due to climate change and overfishing by humans threaten all three species. Many populations are also threatened by invasive species that compete with the penguins or hunt their eggs. Penguins face many threats around the world and the Aquarium is working diligently to collaborate with other zoos and aquariums to promote a healthy captive breeding program. NEAQ is also making a difference by educating the public about the actions that they can take locally which translate into a collective global impact.

After learning more about penguins Andrea and I got suited up to feed the birds on exhibit! Wading through the frigid water and being surrounded by squawking penguins was simply exhilarating. I was able to help Andrea feed the birds and keep a tally of which ones had already eaten. Every bird is named and they each have a wing bracelet with a unique color and pattern it. The males have their bands on the left wing and the females on the right wing (The staff says its because girls are always right). I had a waterproof clipboard that listed each bird’s name and I kept a tally of how many capelins each bird consumed. Some of them were feisty and did not hesitate to nip at our wetsuits but most of them were well behaved and extremely curious. I loved working with the penguins today and I sincerely appreciate all the help from the Andrea and the penguin staff!

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