SAN FRANCISCO - What's black and white and warm all over? A penguin in a wetsuit, naturally. Sounds like a joke, but it's quite serious for biologists at the California Academy of Sciences, who had a wetsuit created for an African penguin to help him get back in the swim of things.
Pierre, a venerable 25 years old, was going bald, which left him with an embarrassingly exposed, pale pink behind.
I can empathize with that "going bald thing." Fortunately for penguins there aren't all the quack and dubious "cures" for baldness to titillate. Still, a bald butt has got to be ego shock, even for a penguin.
Unlike marine mammals, which have a layer of blubber to keep them warm, penguins rely on their waterproof feathers. Without them, Pierre was unwilling to plunge into the academy's penguin tank and ended up shivering on the sidelines while his 19 peers played in the water.
"He was cold; he would shake," said Pam Schaller, a senior aquatic biologist at the
Pierre's species of penguin is accustomed to temperate climates, unlike many of their cousins. The birds are nicknamed Jackass penguins because they make sounds similar to braying donkeys, quite startling the first time you hear it in an aquarium.
Schaller first tried a heat lamp to keep Pierre warm. Then she got another idea: If wetsuits help humans frolic in the chilly Pacific, why not whip up one in a slightly smaller size?
Staff at Oceanic Worldwide, a supplier of dive gear based in San Leandro, were enthusiastic about making a real penguin suit.
"We were really excited to do it," said Teo Tertel, company marketing specialist. "We heard most of these penguins only live to 20, and our little buddy there was already 25. Anything we could do to help them, we were all for it."
That was nice. And if I was a surfer dude, I'd definitely be throwing my business that way. But, we may be very successful mammals, but we're not top predators; and, having grown up in and near San Francisco, I'm really quite well aware of the Great White Sharks that hunt seals, and by accident the occasional surfer, in the surf off Stinson Beach.