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