Celebrate World Penguin Day!

     Who doesn’t love penguins with their adorable waddle, beautiful markings and quirky personalities? April 25 marks World Penguin Day, which was created to promote the health and conservation of these amazing creatures. Zoos, parks, conservationists and everyone else who loves penguins use this day to celebrate penguins as a unique and important part of our world. April 25 coincides with the annual northern migration of penguins. It began at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. The scientists and researchers there noticed that every year on April 25, a colony of Adelie Penguins returned from spending months at sea. They returned to the same spot, on the same day, every year. This seemed too incredible a coincidence…and it wasn’t! This is the normal migrating pattern of these penguins. After several years of observing this phenomenon, the scientists and researchers began to plan for the penguins’ arrival and created a day of celebration out of their appearance. Every year, hundreds of penguins would arrive right on schedule and the celebration would commence. This was the start of World Penguin Day. Within a few years, with the help of the internet and news articles, penguin lovers throughout the world joined in to celebrate these magical creatures. Now, people and places all over the world take part in this chance to learn about and help conserve these wonderful additions to our world.

     Penguins are not just cute, but they are unique and remarkable animals. They are considered the world’s most popular bird. Unfortunately, over the past 100 years, the penguin population has dwindled in their natural habitats. Some species of penguins are more endangered than others. Currently, there are around 40-50 million penguins on our planet, but only 5,000 Galapagos Penguins and 1,600 Yellow Penguins. Conservation efforts at zoos and aquariums around the world are in place, and an attempt to amplify the penguin population through breeding programs is being made. Penguin reproduction is not a fast process. Mating season only happens in the spring or summer for most species. The King and Emperor Penguins only lay one egg. All other species of penguin lay two eggs. Some species take all year to complete the mating season and produce an egg(s). Most penguins are monogamous, and many re-mate with the same companion year after year. How do these penguins find one another among all of those black and white bodies? Each penguin has a distinct call, allowing individuals to find their mates and their chicks to find their parents, even in large groups.

     There are currently 17 species of penguins living throughout the world. They come in a variety of sizes, and despite being black and white, each variety has their own distinctive patterns and markings. Penguins are flightless birds that are humorous to watch as they shuffle along on land. They may be goofy on land, but they are extremely swift and quite graceful in the water. They are designed to be the ultimate swimmers. Penguins can spend up to 75% of their lives in the water. Some penguin species only leave the water during molting or breeding. All hunting is done in the water. Most of their prey is found within 60 feet of the water’s surface, so penguins do not need to swim deep. As they swim, they catch the prey in their beaks and swallow them whole in the water. They only live in the wild in the seas of the Southern hemisphere from the Galapagos Islands to Antarctica. Some are warm water penguins and some live in the bitterly cold regions of Antarctica. Despite their unique differences, all penguin species have at least one thing in common…they are quite social birds! They like to be in close-knit groups and can be found in pairs and groups that number in the thousands.

     So now that you know a little more about these beautiful birds, how do we celebrate World Penguin Day? There are many ways to celebrate our penguin friends. We can wear plenty of black and white, wear penguin supportive clothing or jewelry, waddle a little throughout the day in honor of our amazing friends, watch a movie or nature film, read about penguins, or even visit them at your local zoo, aquarium or conservation center. Several zoos and aquariums even have special celebrations like painting with penguins. At Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, one program creates penguin art. They use different colored water based paint and let the penguins walk through it. They then have them track their little painted feet over canvases, forever marking their individual footprints to share with others. The canvases are then sold in the gift shop, and the profits are used to continue the support and conservation of these amazing creatures. Whatever way you choose to celebrate, give these little guys a moment of thought on April 25 and support our penguin population!

By Megan Frison

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