Monday, October 22, 2007

Living in the Belly of the Beast -- And Surviving Well

Not to worry. We're fine.

The magnitude and impact of the fires though is too close. I feel for friends who are not as lucky.

Living in the Belly of the Beast: Southern California's Firestorms Threaten Thousands

Southern California firestorms snarl through neighborhood after neighborhood, thousands fleeing in their paths. With giant flames licking the sky, they return again and again, but this time with even greater vengeance.

To get a real feel for what's going on, visit Sign On San Diego's fire blog and read a few of the brief, but poignant, entries.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Asking Your Opinion

Okay Friends, inspired by you to improve my writing skills, I'm taking a Feature Writing course. Below is this week's assignment, due later this week. Please do chime in with comments with ideas for improvement or just tell me what you do or don't like about it. If you prefer to contact me via email, you can do so at ZoKai(dot)blogspot(dot)com(at)gmail(dot)com. Many thanks.

Penguin Love, SeaWorld Celebrates Successful 25th Anniversary of Exhibit

Like 80's rockers in monochromatic suits with a slash of yellow lipstick on their beaks, SeaWorld's penguins are living life large. They are the stars of the Penguin Encounter's upcoming 25th Anniversary.

Movies like Happy Feet, March of the Penguins, and Surf's Up have recently focused attention on the plight of penguins around the world, but SeaWorld San Diego's bird and education departments have been working hard to protect the interests of penguins for 25 years.

Keeping penguins in San Diego requires a bit of environmental magic, transforming sunshine and warm weather into darkness and sub-freezing temperatures. In the Emperor Penguin exhibit, the temperature hovers consistently at -25 degrees Fahrenheit. The environment simulates Antarctic winter, and visitors will find it dark inside during the middle of July.

"Molting and breeding are keyed off lighting," says Lauren DuBois, Assistant Curator of Birds. She explains the right environment is key to their highly successful breeding program.

San Diego's breeding program boasts some of the best results in the world, achieving live chick births that have happened nowhere else. Thanks to the program, some species near extinction have found new hope. Humboldt Penguins and Emperors have been among the park's success stories.

In 1980, a tiny emperor penguin made international zoological history. The chick was the first to be hatched and raised by its parents inside the Penguin Encounter at SeaWorld San Diego, then the world's only successful emperor penguin breeding facility outside of Antarctica. And in 1982, the first hand-raised emperor penguin hatched. Since then, more than 20 emperor penguins have been hatched and raised at SeaWorld San Diego.

Emperors are far from the only penguins in the park. There are many species, from Adélies to Magellanic Penguins, residing in the Penguin Encounter, each requiring its own specialized environment.

"We actually have a very big life support system," says DuBois. "It recently took about five months to do a rehab of our penguin encounter." DuBois's friendly smile and energy convey her genuine excitement for penguins. Even the five month rehab of the penguin's environment seems exciting.

From the sub-zero temperatures of Antarctica to the hothouse-like conditions of Africa, the climates required by the penguins are as diverse as their personalities and the vocalizations they use to connect with one another.

"Emperors are very standoff-ish," says DuBois. "Adelies are not unlike in the movie Happy Feet. Gentus are like big dumb football players. Macaronis are just curious."

Individual penguins have individual personalities too. While penguins don't operate in a hierarchy like pods of dolphins or killer whales, they are social animals. Communication with one another is key, again not entirely unlike in the movie Happy Feet.

Emperors make a trumpeting sound, and Magellanics make a sound like a braying donkey. Every species has a different call. During breeding season, a time when penguins are especially vocal, life inside their environs becomes a penguin rock opera.

Keepers inside exhibits sometimes have to wait for a break between love ballads to talk to one another. They don't mind. They're happy to see the penguins rock on.