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A Penguin Encounter

A day with the penguins was what my son asked for as his birthday wish, so a day with the penguins was what he got. My sons both love animals, and a local-ish aquarium (Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead) offers “Penguin Encounters” that allow guests to get up close to these feathered, non-flying friends. We started the day with church and a quick breakfast, and after changing into our casual clothes headed out for our adventure with our favorite aquatic bird- in this case, the endangered African Penguin, which is in decline and at risk for becoming extinct within 20 years.

Well, hello Mr. Penguin!

We learned a lot about penguins, such as they tend to be monogamous, they are friendly, and they have quite the appetite! Penguins eat about two to three times their own weight in fish daily- 13 pounds! The birds we spent time with were named after popular TV show characters (the newest couple are Pam and Jim) and many were rescued. Penguins are very loved and popular, and apparently people who travel to other countries where penguins reside try to smuggle them back into the United States as pets, and this baker’s dozen of penguins (one female is unattached) were saved from what would likely have been a very unpleasant existence as the unique pets of people not equipped to care for them.

Penguins have their elegant, tuxedo-shaped camouflage as a way of protecting them from predators in the sea. From below, other sea life look up and see white and black (could be shadows and sunlight) and from above, they are a dark spot in a dark sea. African Penguins are mostly black and white (their young are blue-gray), and they develop a black chin and white patches or markings on their face as they grow into adulthood. Penguins are not nomadic, so unfortunately when their food supply dries up or their habitat is disturbed, they tend to simply die out. They don’t really seek better homes and as a result, their numbers are greatly decreasing. It was a privilege to be able to spend time with them ♥︎

A couple of the female African penguins were nesting so they hid away in holes. Those holes on the stone wall are where they go for safety or to sleep, and on the other side of the hole is a small room with individual boxes that let the penguins cuddle into for the night. Couples room together and they are kept small because penguins like to hide away in small spaces for safety. They don’t trust large spaces or a spot with multiple entrances when it’s time to sleep or nest. The caretakers at the aquarium can open the boxes as needed to care for the penguins, but generally leave them be.

After spending time with the penguins outdoors (it was cold!!), we bid adieu to the larger group to go indoors.

Inside, we spent more quality time with penguins Pam and Jim, who were honeymooning. We spied them give each other penguin kisses, but only for a few seconds, and I was not quick enough with my camera, so unfortunately I did not capture that (and didn’t think to since I didn’t know penguins kissed!). The boys were a little shy at first, but soon warmed up and were able to touch the penguins feathers, which are surprisingly soft on their body, and very small and dense. They have 100 feathers per square inch, and more feathers than any other bird. On their flippers are also small feathers, but these are firm and scaly, almost rubbery feeling, which aids them in swimming well.

And then the lesson began, where we learned a LOT about African penguins (and just fell in love with them and now want to support preserving their population). In the wild, they live about 12-15 years, but in captivity, they can live up to 20 years, so hopefully Long Island Aquarium’s efforts are helping out.

And of course, while we were there we visited a few other animals we love too…

And so the years pass….

After we returned home, we changed again before heading out to Passione, an Italian restaurant that makes some pretty delicious foods. The Birthday Boy wanted pizza, and we adults wanted steak and risotto and eggplant parmesan. His birthday dessert was brought out with a sparkler – fun, fun, fun! – and it was a good end to a fabulous day.

He’s eight ♥︎ How did this happen so fast? I want to hit the time break and just hang out here for a little bit. The boys are a perfect age, and I would love to freeze time and hold on to them just like they are now for longer. They are independent, sweet, funny, smart, and helpful… perfect ages for all the fun things we do. The Aquarium offers Seal Training as well so next time we return, we will be signing up to learn how to train seals!