One of the last things I expected to see on a warm September day was a group of penguins in the middle of Philadelphia. No, they were not accompanying Mr. Popper but swimming about in their chilly pool, that they call home at the Philadelphia Zoo. After a stressful week of grad classes, these Humboldt penguins are a joy to watch! They can spend time chilling and floating about on their backs but also excite visitors when they race through the water in front of glass walls. According to the Philadelphia Zoo, these birds “have superb swimming skills rivaling seals and porpoises.” I recently got to watch the Humboldt’s swimming mastery on a visit with my dad.
With over twenty birds, it can be hard to keep track of them all. Luckily the Philadelphia Zoo has created a method of identification using colored bands on the bird’s flipper. Some of the most interesting penguin names include Sushi, Jamaican Me Crazy, Schwimmer, Geller, Tribbiani, Aniston, and Phoebe. Clearly someone at the zoo is a fan of Friends. A lot of the penguins have been hatched in Philadelphia, but several come from other zoos as well. As a visitor favorite, the zoo even offers chances for the public to meet the penguin keeper every day. For more information about all twenty-two Humboldt penguins at the zoo, check out their website.
After the sad death of the zoo’s last polar bear (and the oldest polar bear in the United States), the enclosure became empty. Luckily, it was the perfect spot for the Humboldt penguins to move in and Penguin Point was born! The zoo staff has been hard at work adding new interpretation to the exhibit. They’ve made good use of the many locations visitors can check out the birds including putting labels right on the glass visitors peer through.
There is also an interactive cut-out of a Humboldt penguin explaining why molting may make the penguins look a little shabby. This is a fun opportunity for visitors of all ages to learn something new and have a great photo opportunity! This type of interpretive label is very engaging; I’ve definitely taken advantage of several of the zoo’s photo spots like this in past trips.
Because Penguins are typically associated as being cold weather animals, it may be surprising to learn that Humboldt penguins are actually from the West coast of South America. Besides the Humboldt penguin, South America is actually home to three more types of penguins! If you’re interested in checking out the bird on a future trip down south, check out some potential spots here!
Zoos serve a unique place in education. They are able to cultivate immense levels of empathy for wildlife and nature because visitors are able to come face to face (or bill or snout) with the subjects of their learning. The Philadelphia Zoo does an amazing job of showing folks how their actions impact the animals they see at the zoo and this exhibit is another place where that educational opportunity is available. Rising sea levels threaten Antarctic penguins, but South American penguins also face dangers of food shortages due to over fishing. Perhaps a program during the penguins’ daily feedings could help encourage visitors to empathize with Humboldt penguins and fulfill the zoo’s mission to inspire action for wildlife and habitat.
“Climate Change and Penguins.” Climate Vulnerable Forum. https://thecvf.org/climate-change-penguins/.
“Humboldt Penguin.” Philadelphia Zoo. https://www.philadelphiazoo.org/Animals/Birds/Other-Birds/Humboldt-penguin.aspx.
“Overview and Mission.” Philadelphia Zoo. https://www.philadelphiazoo.org/About-The-Zoo/Overview-Mission.htm.