Laura, grew up in Auckland and is the manager of Antarctic Ice Adventure at Kelly Tarlton’s penguin exhibit. After graduating with a BSs in Biological and Marine Sciences in 2004, Laura began working at Kelly Tarlton’s, first learning of the position through friends at university. After briefly taking another job opportunity, Laura returned to Kelly Tarlton’s in 2007 and has been employed there ever since. She said that one of her favorite memories of the job was when she had to take home an abandoned chick named Moony for the weekend. Normally parents raise their chicks, but after eight days of being ignored by his mother and keepers feeding him a fish slurry on the side, the decision was made to have keepers hand-raise the little gentoo.
Michelle has been working as a captive penguin keeper for six years. She was born in South Africa and moved to the UK after high school before making her way to New Zealand. Michelle has a BSc in Ecology and Marine Science and first worked at Kelly Tarlton’s as a volunteer during the penguins’ breeding season. Later, she was employed on part-time basis until she finished university. She said her favorite part of being a keeper is working with chicks - who are gently handled while young so that they learn to be comfortable around people - and called the job “stressful, but worth it!”
Kelly Tarlton’s is home to the world’s largest captive colony of Antarctic penguins, with 29 king and 45 gentoo penguins calling Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium home. In 2014, the oldest penguins in the colony were a 26 year old king penguin a 19 year old Gentoo. In 2014, Kelly Tarlton’s also welcomed a number of new fledglings in to the colony.
King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) are the second largest species of penguin, standing 70 - 100cm tall and weighing between 11 to 16 kg (24 to 35 lb). This species is known for their distinctive plumage with yellow markings on their head and throat. King penguins breed on Sub-antarctic Islands, raising one chick every two years; chicks take 18 months to raise. The diet of a wild king penguin consists primarily of myctophid fish and squid, while in captivity they are often fed locally sourced herring, sprat, mussels, and squid.
Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) are one of three species within the Pygoscelis genus, which also includes the Adélie and chinstrap penguins. Gentoos are around 51 to 90 cm in height and weight around 8 – 8.5 kg (18 – 19 lb). They are easily distinguishable by the white stripe that extends across their head and their bright orange-red bill. Like king penguins, gentoos breed on ice-free areas along sub-Antarctic islands and Antarctic Peninsula, raising two chicks every year. In the wild, a gentoo’s diet consists mainly of rock cod, amphipods, and cephalopods, whiole in captivity they are usually fed locally sourced herring, sprat, mussels, and squid.
A day in the Life
There’s also three hours of cleaning to be done each morning between hosing the exhibit clean and bringing in three to five tons of fresh snow each from on-site ice-makers, spreading it through the enclosure with a snow-blower. (Throughout the day, they can expect several more hours of cleaning!) Daily environmental enrichment to stimulate the birds mentally is also completed; sometimes a mountain of snow for the birds to slide down or interactive time with the keepers themselves. Six days a week, keepers also invite members of the public to enter the enclosure, walk out onto the ice, and learn more about the birds in a close-up encounter. Certain times of the year are more chaotic than others - for instance, breeding season, when keepers must record chick growth rates, observe parental behavior and feeding, and clean nesting rocks. Even on slow days, though, there’s always some task to keep the keepers busy until their end of day, around 3:30 PM.