Little Blue Penguin Pals

Blue penguins are about 16 inches tall, which makes them too large to be called foot-long penguins but small enough to be the smallest species of penguins in the world.  They live in southern Australia and New Zealand, and spend their days at sea looking for small fish and squid to gulp.   In the evening, they return to their burrow, rocky nook or wooden house to rest.   In 2008, while looking for yellow-eyed penguins at Penguin Place outside of Denedin, New Zealand, Mark and I and some of the Alma College students saw a blue penguin in its wooden nesting box. 

Mark with some students looking at a blue penguin.

What we saw inside the wooden box was this little fella.

Blue penguin hiding from us.

My problem–and I have many–is that the blue penguin was kind of hard to see, and it wasn’t doing anything.  I wanted to see one swim or wiggle or wave or something.  I missed out on seeing a live one in the wild wiggling in 2008, because as were leaving Stewart Island, New Zealand in 2008, we learned that a blue penguin was using a particular rocky nook as its home.  Do you know how disturbing it is to hear that you just missed seeing a blue penguin in the wild?

You could therefore say I waited patiently for two years to return to Stewart Island to see a blue penguin actually doing something in the wild.  I was lucky enough to be part of the May 2010 New Zealand Alma College Experience and I was rather obsessed about getting up in the dark for a chance at seeing the blue penguin.

In contrast, Mark wasn’t really into getting up early to see a penguin rumored to exist two year prior, so I got up and walked to a rocky outcrop alone.  Stars were still shining overhead and the air was crisp with the beginning of the New Zealand fall.  I stood on a dock and stared at the rocks to my left, which  were splattered with white flecks.  I might have stared for 10 minutes, maybe longer, but when I could still see nothing but black rocks and black specks, a new white speck appeared and moved.  Without being able to see anything through my camera, I shot several photos, and I kept shooting as the white speck turned into a white blob, which jumped into the water.  When it emerged, I took one last shot and got lucky.

Blue penguin in the wee hours of the morning.

Seconds later, the penguin stuck its head in the water and disappeared for the day.

That one glimpse made us pals, so of course I had to make sure my pal returned from its adventure at sea.  At dusk, I waited at the same spot.  Mark joined me this time, and I was staring into the water when Mark suddenly pointed and said, “There he is!”  I couldn’t even bring my camera to my face before I saw the penguin jump out the water.  In a flash, it hop-hopped into its rocky nook and disappeared.  This is one of three blue penguin butt shots I took.

My blue penguin pal coming home after a day at sea.
Now, while this was an amazing experience, I still hadn’t gotten my fill of blue penguin encounters.  That may be one reason why Mark and Mel included in the 2010 Alma College New Zealand Experience, a penguin encounter at the Antarctic Center in Christchurch.  All the penguins at the Center are rescued penguins and have issues of one sort or another.  The penguin below has only one leg and a chunk of its flipper is missing.  His name is Bagpipes and he was found by a Scottish veterinarian holidaying in NZ.  He’s about three years old.  
Blue penguin swimming by.
 The blue penguin below gets hand fed.  He had food in his mouth so wouldn’t tell me his name.
Blue penguin gulping a fish.
Seeing blue penguins swim and get fed was fun, but the best was seeing a blue penguin up close.  I don’t know the woman’s name in the photo, below, but she’s holding CC, which stands for City Council.  CC was found in a drain by a city council worker in Napier, NZ.  She’s 13 years old.
CC coming out to see us.
I never imagined CC would end up right in front of me!
CC less thrilled about me than I am about her. Photo by Mark Oemke.
I’m afraid I chat with animals, and I gabbed easily with CC .  She told me about how her right eye got injured, and I told her about my other penguin encounters.  I also told her that when she leans over she’s like the size of a football.
CC chatting with me.
I had numerous blue penguin encounters at the Antarctic Center and fell in love with all of them.
Another blue penguin I fell for.

The thing is, every blue penguin is a cute one, whether it’s in a wooden nesting box, swimming in the water, hopping out onto the land, or just standing there staring at you.  So, the morale of this story is:  if you ever have a chance–any kind of chance–to see a blue penguin, do it.

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5 years ago

Blue penguins are so cute! I was watching a pokemon video and then I realized, hey, pliplup looks just like a blue penguin!
I found this website on a picture in google images. I might consider making a sanctuary for them! And you’re so lucky to see them, I can’t go to New Zealand, but I’ll try whenever I can.

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