03 July 2013

Close Encounters of the Feathered Kind

Jacinta Subjee – creative studio co-ordinator and designer at Two Oceans Aquarium
Jacinta Subjee shares her Penguin encounter experience. All photos by Hayley Mclellan.

While driving home the other day, I listened to my husband recount the events of his day at the office. He rambled on about the clients who had shouted at him because of some or other delay, about the office politics and how frustrating it was to work in such an environment. After all his moaning and groaning, he politely asked me how my day was. “Oh, I got to spend some time with the penguins,” I replied.

Now, even though I’ve been working at the Two Oceans Aquarium for many years, I never get tired of seeing my husband’s jaw drop in disbelief when I tell him about another magical experience that forms part of my working experience at the Aquarium. A Penguin Encounter involves a face-to-face, close-up and personal interaction with our rockhopper penguins.

My Penguin Encounter started at the Marion exhibit with our resident rockhopper penguins. Hopper, whom bird trainer Hayley McLellan introduced to me, became my “bodyguard” as he stayed by my side for most of the time that I spent with the rockhopper penguins. She also pointed out that he could be identified by a black scar on his foot. Each of the rockies has a very specific marking by which she identifies them.

On your next visit, try and identify our feathered friends by name. We have placed their unique identification markings on the signage in the Marion exhibit to help you. You can also familiarise yourself with our feathered friends here on the website, by selecting the Species & exhibits tab above.

Teddy, one of our other residents, even spent some time on my lap. I have three beautiful daughters who have shared my lap, now added to that is Teddy. The rockhopper penguins would come up next to me and fluff themselves up, almost like a reaching-for-the-stars type of stretching action. Hayley referred to this action as the rockies being very relaxed with me there. I then watched Hayley feed them, and was quite mesmerised by their obedience. Each of them have a different spot/rock on the exhibit that Hayley moves to, in order to feed them.

Next we moved up to the Sappi River Meander, to the African penguin beach for their feed.

Here I got to keep a record of how much each bird was eating. This information is very important for keeping track of the birds’ wellbeing.

In both instances I noticed a characteristic among the birds, very similar to humans: some of the birds want to be in the forefront getting as much as they can, while others will casually hang around in the back. You even have some trying to grab food from another. We are more alike sometimes than we are willing to admit. A big heartfelt thank-you to Hayley, the African and rockhopper penguins for an experience that I will remember for as long as I live. I love penguins even more ... they’re cuddly and cute.

To book a Penguin Encounter, please email Visitor Services on info@aquarium.co.za or call us on +27 (0)21 418 3823.

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