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12 Sep 2020 20:11:30
Q: How long have you been a Penguin Keeper?
A: I have been a full-time Assistant Penguin Keeper for approximately 2.5 months now, but I have been at SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium for nearly two years, so I have seen our beautiful colony blossom for a wee while now! It has been an incredible couple of months being a “Birdo”; I have been able to learn so much and in such a different, hands-on way! The time has really flown by but I have been super grateful for every second!
Q: What is it like being a Penguin Keeper?
A: It’s an incredible role and it certainly doesn’t feel like a typical “job”! Penguins are such unique and intriguing birds with whom you can form incredible bonds. They are truly charismatic!
Q: What sort of qualifications do you need? Do you need a degree in Marine Biology/Zoology?
A: I do have a Bachelor’s Degree in Science with a double major in Marine Science and Biological Sciences, but we all come from different educational and vocational backgrounds, so there is certainly no single path to success! Experience in animal welfare, care and husbandry is certainly incredibly useful, so volunteering at your local animal shelter, Zoo or veterinary clinic would be a great way to get some hands-on experience caring for animals – I wish I had done that when I was younger! As long as you have a passion for the marine world and all the amazing sea life within, you are on the right track! There are so many great pathways for young people now, such as Ocean Youth, so my biggest recommendation for young people is to simply put yourself out there and give things a go!
Q: What’s your daily routine like?
A: Our daily routine involves a lot of cleaning up after our penguins (they each make a mess on average once every seventeen minutes!) so we make sure that their home is nice and clean for them because we don’t want them to get sick! We like to keep their home fresh and clean so they are as happy as can be! We sort out their fish so that they only get the best quality food – they deserve it! We spend our days watching our penguins’ behaviours, seeing how they interact with us and with each other and watch their awesome relationships develop and watch their strong personalities shine through in their behaviours! We are always learning about our penguins and what we can do to help their wild cousins!
Q: How do you remember all the penguin’s names?
A: It takes some time to remember all 78 of our penguins’ names, but you learn to recognise them by their sweet and unique behaviours, personalities and looks – they are all individual in their own special ways! But, if we ever get stuck remembering a penguin’s name, we can check out their jazzy jewellery! Our penguins have uniquely coloured identification bands on their flippers (their modified wings) which tell us who is who! Each colour represents a number, with each combination of colours corresponding to an identification code, usually relating to when they hatched, and those bands tell us their names! Their flipper bands also help us identify the males from the females. It can be tricky to assume a penguin’s gender just by the way it looks; sometimes the males are a bit larger or have a slightly longer beak, but that’s not always true! So, when our penguins have developed their waterproofed adult feathers, we can do a DNA test on that feather to see if the penguin is male or female! [insert sex chromosomal makeup] Then, we position their flipper bands accordingly; males on the right and females on the left.
Q: Have you ever been pecked by a penguin?
A: Yes, many times! It’s definitely not the worst occupational hazard! The penguins do peck us sometimes just because they’re curious and playful or feeling a bit snacky, but if you’re in their personal space and they don’t like it, they’ll tell you! We have one Gentoo penguin, named Mean Bird (there’s a clue to his personality…) who really does not like it when you clean and scrub around his nest, so he has pecked my forearms many times! But when Mean Bird pecks, he hangs onto you and can leave you with a decent bruise!
One of our King penguin chicks has also tried to have a cheeky nibble… we were trimming their toenails and as I bent down to look at its feet, it looked up at me and scraped its little baby beak against my cheek leaving me with a little scratch – which I wore like a proud badge of honour – I’d much rather have a scratch from a big fluffy baby than a papercut!
Q: Which is your favourite penguin pair?
A: It’s difficult to pick one single pair as each one is special in its own unique way, but here are some pairs that come to mind!
Maggie & Luther: Two stunning King penguins who love a romantic morning swim! Maggie is in her early thirties but you’d never be able to tell just by looking at her – having handsome Luther around (who is twenty years her junior!) is keeping her young!
Lady & Horse: Two Gentoo penguins who have been in a very long-term relationship and are the King and Queen of nest-building! Their nest is always overflowing with pebbles and so they reign over the other Gentoos when it’s breeding season!
Xena & Dobby: Two sweet young Gentoo penguins who have very recently partnered up, thanks to Cupid! These two Gentoos are favourites of the keepers as they always come and say hello to us, follow us around and call to us, so we are so happy they have decided to spend some time with each other!
Q: What is your favourite time of year as a Penguin Keeper?
A: Spring! The Gentoos are busy building their nests, laying their eggs and raising their chicks while the King chicks are slowly growing up and becoming more independent, feeding from us, exploring their habitat, interacting with the enrichment we offer them and showing off their developing personalities!