Waddle on over to celebrate World Penguin Day in San Diego


They’re comical, adorable avian contradictions. They swim but don’t fly. And they get their due Wednesday. It’s World Penguin Day, which marks the annual northward migration of these dapper divers.

Both the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld San Diego are putting on special tributes to these fascinating birds.

  • The Zoo’s tribute will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at its new Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks section. It includes a 9:30 a.m. penguin feeding; a “deep water penguin snack” at noon; and another feeding at 3 p.m.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m, the zoo offers face-painting, free to those wearing black and white. Also during that time, visitors can make their own penguin ID bracelet, bearing the number of a penguin of their choice.

  • SeaWorld celebrates with talks by bird keepers inside its Penguin Encounter, a snow-filled habitat kept at 25 degrees. The park opens at 10 am, with talks at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

SeaWorld says it has the Western Hemisphere’s only emperor penguin colony, with 21 successful hatchings since 1980. The roots of this unique colony go back to 1972, when the National Science Foundation asked SeaWorld and Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute to establish a colony out of the Antarctic.
Researchers were concerned about man-made threats to these penguins, said Linda Henry, SeaWorld San Diego aviculturist and supervisor in the bird department. These threats include ingestion of plastics, climate change, and competition for the fish they need to survive, she said.

The San Diego colony has helped researchers better understand the conditions they need to thrive.

Emperor penguins are remarkable for a number of reasons, Henry said. They’re native to one of the coldest, harshest environments on earth, where humans can only survive as visitors. They can dive to great depths, holding their breath for up to 39 minutes, according to a recent study by researchers including Gerald Kooyman of UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. And they get big, as much as 90 pounds, Henry said.

But penguins aren’t exclusively cold-weather creatures, as Africa Rocks demonstrates with its exhibit of African penguins. These penguins live in subtropical climes and rarely even see snow.

SeaWorld’s Magellanic penguins also roam far from the Antarctic in nature. They’re also responsive to humans, Henry said.

“They make eye contact, they vocalize, they want to engage,” she said. “ And I think on World Penguin Day, what better to do than make eye contact with a penguin?”

Penguins can live for decades, which Henry said allows the keepers to become familiar with them — and they with their keepers.

“These animals are individuals to us,” she said. “We live with them every day, and they’re long lived animals.”

Penguins also have a reputation for being strong-willed, battling their environment and other animals to achieve their goals.

The pioneering evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin discovered that fact on the cold and windswept Falkland Islands, off the southeast tip of South America. As an experiment, he blocked the path of one penguin headed out to sea.

“It was a brave bird; and till reaching the sea, it regularly fought and drove me backwards,” Darwin wrote of his penguin encounter. “Nothing less than heavy blows would have stopped him; every inch he gained he firmly kept, standing close before me erect and determined.”

The score: Penguin 1, Darwin 0.