Late in 2012, at the bottom-most part of the world, a team of Belgian researchers trekked down a remote Antarctic crevasse and became the world’s first humans to lay eyes upon a hidden emperor penguin colony. Using recent satellite imagery provided by the British Antarctic Survey, the researchers suspected the birds’ existence and were elated to find a thriving colony of 9,000 birds inhabiting the Princess Ragnhild coastline of Antarctica. Meanwhile—also this year—the National Science Foundation reported that by the year 2100, emperor penguins may risk extinction due to loss of Southern Ocean sea ice. This declaration came after extensive mathematical research, projections of climate change based upon current trends. Obviously, the penguin world is abuzz with newsworthy headlines. What better way to catch up on the current plight of the penguins than to celebrate Penguin Awareness Day on Jan. 20?
Penguin Awareness Day is as it sounds: a day to both celebrate our beloved penguins and be aware of how their world is changing. So read up on penguins come the 20th. You will discover that the majority of penguins live in the sub-Antarctic while the more intrepid species—Adélies and emperors—make their way onto the ice sheet of Antarctica itself. Read further--maybe an Internet glance at recent scientific surveys and headlines--and you will learn that Antarctica, this great penguin homeland, is a fast-changing place. And what affects Antarctica in turn affects penguins. The Penguin Taxon Advisory Group, the collective responsible for consulting zoos on collection management, downgraded most every penguin conservation status this year. Many species of penguins are considered threatened, a few are endangered. Penguins are talismans of their environment, meaning their health indicates the health of the very local environment they live in. Being aware of this is important. Although Antarctica is remote, it is the world’s weather generator, and change at the South Pole means change for the rest of the globe. When we see penguins suffer ill effects from climate shift, we can be sure to experience change as well, even as far north from them as we are.
At SeaWorld San Diego, we are celebrating Penguin Awareness Day and spreading conservation messages through a very special event: the Penguin Awareness Day Cocktail Party. On the evening of the 19th, the Penguin Encounter will become a salon of sorts: a soiree of cocktails, delectables, and conversation with keepers about everything penguin. There will be a silent auction, penguin visits, and a very special presentation by an expert on Antarctica and emperor penguins. All proceeds from the event will go the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, a fund which in part benefits penguin stewardship round the globe. Most notably, the Fund has granted monies to The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Penguin Project, and the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds. These groups help penguins in as disparate places as the South Atlantic Ocean, Africa and South America.
So celebrate Penguin Awareness Day, whether by visiting the Penguin Encounter, watching a documentary, reading a book, or searching the Internet. There is much to learn as there are new discoveries unearthed every day, whether it's Penguin Awareness Day or not.