I love penguins. I suspect this started in childhood. Mr. Popper’s Penguins was one of my favorite stories. I fantasized for weeks about how to build a giant ice sculpture for the penguins I wanted to live in our basement.
Imagine my surprise when I saw my first live penguin display and there was no ice. Seems penguins do just fine without it–at least the species in the aquariums and zoos I’ve been to. The important ingredient seems to be making sure they have a place to swim.
My adult fantasy has nothing to do with taking penguins home with me (taking care of a dog is enough responsibility), but with getting a great shot of one of them popping out of the water.
It fascinates me how they can build up so much speed underwater in a relatively short distance that when they decide to beach, they can propel themselves straight up into the air and land on their feet. It’s the equivalent to flaring a hang glider to land, except that they are moving in the opposite direction of gravity and through the resistance of water.
Alas, the penguins do not accommodate me. In all of my visits to the Tennessee Aquarium, I have either been behind crowds of children and couldn’t get an angle on a popping penguin or the penguins weren’t popping. On our latest visit, they weren’t popping.
Rather than demonstrating their underwater and water-exiting talents, they swam rather lazily like they’d just eaten and were afraid of getting a cramp. They waddled about in their penguin waddle way and made noises at each other up on the surface. This was amusing in and of itself.
Any of the young penguins that had recently hatched the last time we visited had either become full-fledged, and undistinguishable, adults, or been sent elsewhere. Gone were the rock nests and none of the penguins were stealing rocks from others. They were, however, stealing fish.
They cackled at each other and sword-fought with their beaks, although no one actually tried to land a jab. They seem to be arguing about the rations each bird was entitled to from their recently served meal. From the looks of them, there’s plenty of food to go around.
I particularly enjoyed watching one getting ready to enter the water. He waddled over to the edge, slowly raised a foot like he was going to do a dramatic dive into the water, and then hopped down to a lower ledge that was all of 3 inches below the water line. Apparently he wasn’t up for a swim yet, but felt like wading.
One of these days I’m going to take a day off when all the kids are in school and go sit myself in front of the penguins all day long until I catch one of those little men in tuxedos popping out of the water.
In the meantime, I might have to go re-read Mr. Popper’s Penguins.