Last year I was the Grand prize winner of California Academy of Science's Love Life photo contest. I won a chance to go behind-the-scenes with the penguins at the Academy. Last month I visited San Francisco and finally had the chance to take the tour.
The Academy has a colony of 20 endangered African penguins. It's one of 45 institutions that participates in a population management program called the Species Survival Plan. All of the institutions work together to maintain the most diverse gene pool possible. Penguins are transferred between the 45 institutions around North America to mature and breed.
The exhibit at the Academy is a replica of Boulders Beach in South Africa, a location where the penguins are found in the wild. The Academy mimics their natural environment by changing the air and water temperatures based on the season. They also use a complex lighting setup to provide the penguins with sunrises, sunsets, mid-day sunlight, longer summer days and so on. Having realistic environmental changes are important for stimulating hormones, egg laying and replacement of feathers.
It was so interesting to observe the social dynamics of the colony and was surprising to see the many different personalities. There was a rebellious penguin, a very outgoing and social penguin that loved posing for my camera, a shy penguin and even a couple that has been together for 15 years and spends much of their time together.