While everyone is doing their best to stay safe at home during the coronavirus public health emergency, the experts at the Tennessee Aquarium have continued providing excellent care for the animals. And, over the past week, there’s been a quite a bit of extra activity in Penguins’ Rock as animal care specialists prepare the exhibit for the upcoming nesting season.
This process began with a penguin rodeo of sorts. The birds were rounded up to waddle behind the scenes to receive their semi-annual physical examinations. While the Aquarium’s veterinarian performed a thorough exam on each Gentoo and Macaroni Penguin, others were busy pressure washing the chilly habitat and building new nesting platforms for the penguins. When the birds returned to their sparkling clean exhibit, they seemed to know what’s ahead.
“The lighting system is controlled by a computer to simulate the length of daylight they would receive in the Southern Hemisphere while matching our seasons,” says senior aviculturist Loribeth Lee. “As their 'day' lengthens to reflect the changing time of year, we've noticed some courtship vocalizations and penguins claiming their favorite nesting sites. I think they can sense spring is arriving.”
Ms. Lee and others will start placing hundreds of pounds of rocks in the exhibit for their feathered friends at approximately 10 a.m. on Wednesday. (Daily cleaning and feeding routines will begin at 9 a.m.) The arrival of these rocks — the birds' preferred nesting material — triggers a frenzy of activity that usually lasts for a few weeks until the first eggs start to appear on exhibit in early to mid-May.
Even though the Aquarium remains temporarily closed to the public to slow the community spread of the COVID-19 virus, anyone can watch the Penguins’ Rock live webcam to observe this flurry of courtship and nest-building activity. Ms. Lee will also appear on a special Facebook Live event scheduled for 1 p.m. on Wednesday to talk about penguin pairings, to answer questions submitted by viewers and to provide tips on the best times to watch the live camera. (Hint: basically any time.)
Building a nest is serious business for the penguins. One Gentoo Penguin, Nipper, is among the Aquarium’s most-renowned nest-chitects.
“Each year, Nipper builds one of the largest nests in the habitat,” Ms. Lee says. “He also spends quite a bit of time stealing rocks from other nests, when he’s not defending his own from other penguins that have the same idea.”
While the Penguins’ Rock live webcam will be a place for everyone to flock together virtually, the Aquarium has two other webcams that are soothing and fun to watch. The Secret Reef live webcam features a huge variety of aquatic life native to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico, while the River Otter Falls live webcam showcases the playful antics of North American River Otters romping and diving in an Appalachian cove forest.
For those seeking more fun and educational content, the Tennessee Aquarium’s education team is working to add engaging learn-at-home activities to the Aquarium at Home page. Virtual visitors to this page can download activity sheets, coloring pages and find links to additional resources like streaming services that offer some of the highest-rated films shown at the Aquarium’s IMAX 3D Theater.
As a nonprofit organization, the Tennessee Aquarium depends upon admissions to support its operational costs. Each day without guests makes it that much more challenging to cover these mounting expenses. Like the penguin team, the Aquarium’s dedicated experts remain committed to meeting the needs of every animal in their care, many of them representing species the Aquarium is helping to save from extinction. The public is asked to join a wave of support by contributing to the Aquarium’s emergency operations fund online: https://www.tnaqua.org/donate-now