Have You Ever Seen, A Penguin Come to Tea?

Why would a Penguin ever come to tea? But so goes the nursery rhyme my foster-grandchild and I are currently hooked on.

If I were to write the poem, I would say

‘Have you ever seen, a penguin out at sea’.

Would make a bit more sense.

Of course, the other argument is, why should nursery rhymes make sense?

6A7544E4-A7BF-48E0-9512-51C1F4F1AFDCBut that is not the subject of the blog today. April 25th is marked as World Penguin Day, and that is the occasion of the blog. This day coincides with the annual northern migration of Adelie penguins.

Any ‘Day’ is a way to focus attention and raise awareness about an issue. Penguins evoke immediate love and interest. And hence are a great species to highlight when it comes to conservation education in general, and education about the species in particular. Alarmingly, of the 17 recognized living species, 11 have been listed as Vulnerable or Endangered, and hence awareness about penguins is important. And talking about penguins also ensures we talk about the health of the waters where they spend 75 percent of their lives.

It was only very recently that I saw my first-ever penguins in the wild. It was an unforgettable experience—a visit to the Omaru Penguin Colony in New Zealand, where visitors can spend a few hours freezing on stands, waiting for Little Blue Penguins to come home to their colony for the night. And believe me, it was worth every chilly bone to see this phenomenon. Groups of ten or more penguins coming in over a period of about an hour, after spending the whole day in the waters feeding—for themselves and to regurgitate for their children. What a hard life! The Little Blue Penguins are really tiny, just about a foot high. And we were lucky enough to see pair of chicks—cuddly balls of down.

And to end, some trivia:

  • The origin of the word ‘penguin’ is not clear. It may either be derived from a synonym for ‘great auk’, a bird familiar to Europeans who thought penguins looked like auks when they first saw them. (Great auks are flightless birds not related to penguins. They became extinct in the 19th century).  Or it could be from the Latin pinguis, which means fat or oil.
  • Some prehistoric species of penguins stood almost as tall and heavy as an adult human. Today, the largest species, the Emperor Penguin, stands at about 3 1/2 feet.
  • Although except one, all species are found only in the Southern Hemisphere, most do not live in extreme cold areas like the Antarctic. Many are found in temperate areas too.
  • There are two names for penguin collectives—when there is a group of them in water, they are called a ‘raft’. When there is a group on land, it is called a ‘waddle’.

Here is to World Penguin Day, may their tribes increase!

–Meena

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