Nature, Science/Math

Presenting…the penguins

Photo by Finley

When most people think of penguins, they think of Antarctica: ice, cold and frigid snow. But, more than half of all penguin species live in more temperate climates, including the Megellanic penguins, which are the focus of a recently opened exhibit at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Our family is no stranger to these South American penguins. Last fall, Nils spent some time in Chile where he visited a penguin rookery, and emailed us some pictures of the penguins and their nesting grounds. Megellanic penguins are far smaller than the Emperor penguins most of us are familiar with. The South-American birds are about the size of a baby when full grown, measuring at most 2 1/2 feet tall and weighing up to 15 pounds. They feast on anchovies, krill, hake, cod, squid, but have reached “near threatened” status in recent years as fisheries compete for the same foods.

The penguins nest in the southern parts of Chile, Argentina and the Falkland Islands. They often are faithful to the same mate and may use the same nest each year, as long as the nest is still intact. The World Conservation Society noted one penguin pair that stayed together for 16 years, more than half their lifespan!

Each October the female lays two eggs four days apart, and both parents take turns incubating the eggs, a process that takes a little over a month. Megallanic penguins lay on top of their eggs, warming them with their tummies. The penguins spend two to four months rearing the chicks near the nesting grounds before molting. While they are molting — a process that takes almost three weeks — the penguins have to stay on land and can’t fish. Once the molt is complete the colony migrates north to Brazil, Uruguay and northern Argentina for the winter, which is May-August in South America. Then they return again to their nesting grounds in the south, arriving in early September.

Are you ready for a dose of uber-cuteness? Check out the Aquarium of the Pacific’s Penguin cam….here.

Cultivating curiosity, Field Trip Ideas, Nature, Science/Math

In praise of museum memberships

Yesterday we went to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. After having a membership both there and at the LA Zoo for a couple of years now, I’ve become a big fan of membership. Here’s why:

  • If I have a membership, I have to go. I am notoriously thrifty. If it takes me two or three visits to see a return on my investment, you better believe I’ll be visiting the requisite two or three times. Membership provides an incentive for taking the kids every couple of months. We pack a picnic lunch, and it’s practically free (if you don’t count the gas money).
  • We don’t have to see it all every time. If I’m at a new museum, and I know I won’t be back for years, I try to see every single animal, painting, etc. It can be exhausting, but I just hate to miss anything. Membership offers the flip side: we visit over and over again, so we can see as much or as little as we like each time. Today we skipped whole galleries, because it was super crowded, but we watched the sea lion and seal show for the first time, and saw the scuba divers feed the tropical fish. Finley spent a good 15 minutes listening to various whale songs at a kiosk. We didn’t see the otters or the penguins at all. That’s ok, because we’ll be back. As members, we have more freedom to let the children’s curiosity be our guide.
  • As a writer, I love to visit the gift stores repeatedly and see what kind of books are for sale. Now that the aquarium has installed a new polar regions exhibit, there were lots of new books about the Arctic and Antarctic. Visits always generate at least a book idea or two.

So yes, the gift store discounts are nice. The member events can’t be beat. But I love our memberships because they guilt me into visiting; they let our curiosity be our guide; and these visits are always a source of writing inspiration. Do you have a favorite museum or other cultural attraction your frequent?