Getting breakfast, lunch and dinner ready for a colony of hungry African penguins is no small task! In the wild, these penguins would spend the majority of their day hunting and it's important that they get the same levels of consistent nutrition while they are at the Aquarium.
Let's see what goes into preparing a penguin meal:
The first step is to defrost some delicious sardines! Sardines contain all the essential proteins and calories that African penguins need and are their most important food in the wild. The sardines we use at the Aquarium are donated by I&J, and leftovers are used to feed the predatory fish in the Kelp Forest Exhibit and are used for "smoothies" for filter-feeding animals like the jellies and feather stars.
To make up for any nutrients lost due to freezing, the penguins have a supplement added to their meal. As the penguins get older, we may change their supplements to include minerals for healthy bones.
Of course, you can't ask a penguin to swallow a tablet, so Penguin Keeper Shanet has to sneakily hide them inside the fish.
Fish that contain vitamins are kept separately from the plain sardines, to make it easier to distribute them correctly to the penguins
Once their keeper is on the beach with a meal, the penguins gather to be fed. A small step allows the penguin that is being fed to stand a bit taller so that it is more difficult for other penguins to steal their fish, and is part of the positive reinforcement that our penguin keepers use to keep the penguins orderly at the food bucket.
While feeding, the penguin keeper keeps track of how many fish each penguin eats - this is used to monitor their health, as a penguin losing its appetite is one of the earliest signs that it is sick or injured.
To tell them apart, Penguin Keeper Shanet remembers the unique spot pattern on the belly of each African penguin - the patterns are special, like our fingerprints.
Rita, the African black oystercatcher, also gets a few fish - although she eats separately from the penguins. Rita's diet is also supplemented with small invertebrate animals that she can pick from kelp holdfasts.
Finally, when it is time for their next meal, the penguin keeper can refer to the checklist so see which penguins haven't eaten enough, have already taken their supplements, or aren't coming to the food bucket and are preferring to stay in their nests.
And then the process continues!
Follow the March of the penguin:
If you missed the QR code tour during your Two Oceans Aquarium visit and would like to catch up on the extra penguin information that was shared, you can do so here:
- What do penguins eat?
- African penguin colonies
- Microscopic threats to penguins: Parasites
- The bioaccumulation problem
- How to speak the penguin language
- How do we prepare food for the penguins?
- Penguins of Marion Island: The "other" African penguins
- Why do rockhopper penguins have crests?
- Biodiversity and penguins
- Penguins are predators too: How penguins hunt