Monday, September 3, 2007

New England Aquarium seeks to conserve species

Every summer, the New England Aquarium babies a handful of penguin chicks, to support its own penguin population, and - in a crisis - the world's. This year, the nursery has been particularly busy, with a record nine chicks, two Little Blue penguins and seven Africans.

The chicks eat 10 percent of their weight every morning and again every night.

"Right now they're so hungry they'll eat anything you put in front of them," laughed Heather Urquhart, senior aquarist, as five chicks wearing colored bands on their wings jostled and squeaked while she rotated the feeding among them.

"You can see why they grow from the size of a jumbo chicken egg to the size of an adult penguin in 80 days."

The aquarium breeds penguins as part of the Species Survival Program, a cooperative project among the penguin programs at zoos and aquariums across the country.

The program seeks to conserve penguin species by working cooperatively to breed the animals.

The program maintains a stud book, or extended family tree of sorts, mapping out the lineage of every penguin in captivity. With such detailed information, specialists are able to decide which penguins should and should not be paired to provide a strong and diversified genetic pool.

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