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Interview with Penguin

Updated on May 26, 2012

Interview with Penguin Movie Star

Can Penguins Fly?

Have you seen the movie, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” with Jim Carrey? It’s a clever comedy with laughs for kids and chuckles for adults. But that’s not the reason I am writing this. You see, I received an email the other day and I did not recognize the name of the sender. Like you, I usually do not open mail from names I don’t know to avoid viruses, of the computer kind.

This is the exact text of the email I received:

“To: drbj . . . From: Percy the Penguin . . . Subject: Fascinating but not Weird Penguins

Dear Sir: (I knew immediately from that salutation we had never met.) I have reserved a ticket for you at the box office of your neighborhood theater to see the film, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” I am one of those penguins. You may use the ticket at any time during the next two weeks, free of charge. Percy:”

Percy and Penelope, my C.D.P. - Casual Dating Partner
Percy and Penelope, my C.D.P. - Casual Dating Partner

Mr. Popper's Penguins

I cannot resist a mystery and this one involved a free movie ticket so I saw the film and it was very funny. The next night I received a phone call and my caller ID read: “Percy the Penguin.” I thought it was one of my friends being funny so I answered the call. You know what? It actually was Percy the Penguin. So naturally, I interviewed him. Wouldn’t you have done the same?

me – Hello, this is drbj. (cautiously)

Percy – Hi ya, drbj. (enthusiastically) This is Percy. Did you see the movie?

me – Yes, and it was very entertaining. Thank you for the ticket. Jim Carrey always makes me laugh. And the penguins in the “Mr. Popper” movie are very talented. Which of the six are you?

Percy – I’m the first penguin you see in the film. Jim – he asked me to call him, Jim – named me the Captain but my real name is Percy.

Getting Even

Plato the Proboscis Monkey
Plato the Proboscis Monkey
Stanley the Star Nosed Mole
Stanley the Star Nosed Mole

me – Isn't that a British name?

Percy – Actually, my mother named me Perseus after the Greek god, but everyone in school teased me by calling me Percy-R-us. So I shortened it to Percy. I knew how to get even.

You are probably wondering why I contacted you.

me – Yes, the thought did occur to me.

Percy – I heard about the supernatural interviews you were doing with guys like Plato, the Proboscis Monkey and Stanley, the Star Nosed Mole. I wanted to set the record straight about penguins. You know, whether we can fly or not.

me – That’s very kind of you, Percy. Do you have time for the interview right now?

Percy – Sure, I’ve got tons of minutes saved on my Black-and-White-Berry phone.

(Silently to myself) OMG, another wannabe-comedian animal.

Oops! Wrong Penguin

Pittsburgh Penguin hockey player
Pittsburgh Penguin hockey player
Fokk University downtown campus
Fokk University downtown campus

me – Can you really fly?

Percy – I’ll get to that. First I want to tell you a little about Emperor penguins. We are the world’s largest penguin. We can grow up to 3 ½ feet tall and can weigh as much as 88 pounds. Our scientific name is Aptenodytes forsteri .

me – How do you know that?

Percy – My dad told me. He attended Fokk University, good old Fokk U.

me – You’re kidding, right?

Percy – Right! He didn’t attend because he couldn’t find his high school transcripts. (Laughs hysterically)

Guys! Get back in line!
Guys! Get back in line!
Leopard Seal on land
Leopard Seal on land
Leopard seal in the sea
Leopard seal in the sea
Weddell Sea is in the upper northwest. Ross Sea is directly south of the Soouth Pole
Weddell Sea is in the upper northwest. Ross Sea is directly south of the Soouth Pole

Clever Penguin Escapes from Whale!

What's for dinner?
What's for dinner?

me – I’ve always wondered, Percy, why all the Emperor penguins have black backs and flipper/wings with white fronts. You all look like you’re on the way to a formal soiree in your tuxedos.

Percy – It’s more than just fancy dress. It is powerful camouflage. When our major predators – orcas (whales) and leopard seals – look up at us from below, underwater, they have difficulty distinguishing between our white belly and the reflective surface of the water. The black plumage on our backs camouflages us from above.

me – What part of the world do you call home?

Percy – You will find us only in Antarctica in the Weddell and Ross Sea regions. We live there permanently, breeding on the sea ice in some of the coldest conditions on Earth.

me – How cold does it get?

Percy – I’m glad you asked. Antarctica is the coldest and windiest continent of them all. The temperature in winter averages –40 to –94 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer is much warmer: –5 to –31 degrees F. (Chuckles)

You ain’t heard nothin’ yet. The record low in Antarctica is 129 degrees below zero F.

me – How do you stay warm?

Percy – We are covered with thick, shiny, waterproof feathers that keep us warm. Within our smooth plumage, believe it or not, is a substantial layer of air.

That addition ensures buoyancy when we swim and helps to insulate us in the icy cold seas and the sub-sub-zero temperatures.

Note: Winter arrives in Antarctica in March. The continent is in the Southern Hemisphere and has seasons that are opposite those in the north. Nearly all creatures leave except for the Emperor Penguin, the only animal that spends the winter on Antarctica's open ice

Spectacular March of the Penguins

Heavy-duty huddling
Heavy-duty huddling

BTW, Did you see the movie, “March of the Penguins?

me Yes, it was a magnificent, spectacular documentary which I recommend to everyone. I’ve watched it more than once.

Percy – Then you remember how we menfolk brave the icy winter by ourselves, clutching a single egg with our feet while our womenfolk return to the sea to catch their food.

We clump together in a huge, huddled, cramped crowd and take turns moving to the inside of the group which is more protected from the ferocious wind.

Once we have had a chance to warm up, we return to the circle’s edges giving others a turn in the warm center of the pack. Just like a democracy. Like the U.S. of A.

me – How do you keep your feet from freezing?

Percy – Nature has given us an unusual ability. We can control the blood flow to our feet which reduces the amount of blood that gets cold, but still keeps our feet from freezing.

me – Speaking of unusual abilities – can you really fly?

Percy – I promised to address that and I shall.

In the meantime, do you want to know how we get that single egg?

me – The stork?

Can you spot me in the crowd?
Can you spot me in the crowd?
Hurry, mommy, I'm starving!
Hurry, mommy, I'm starving!
When do I get to fish for myself? Huh? Huh?
When do I get to fish for myself? Huh? Huh?
Creche of penguin chicks
Creche of penguin chicks

Breeding Behavior

Percy – Very funny. We breed in the winter and after a courtship of several weeks, a female emperor penguin lays one single egg – and then leaves!

Our baby mamas travel together 50 to 60 miles across the frozen ice toward the open sea to feed. The baby (the egg) is literally left at our feet.

me – How do you keep the egg warm in those way below freezing temperatures?

Percy – Each penguin baby daddy balances his egg on his feet and covers it with his brood pouch, which is a very thick, warm layer of feathered skin designed to keep the egg warm and protected.

Then each daddy stands for about 65 days during icy temperatures, piercing winds and blinding storms. We have not even one little sardine to eat that whole time.By the time the female returns to take over feeding the chick, each male will have lost up to a third of his body weight.

me – That’s remarkable devotion, Percy. Do other penguin species do the same?

Percy – No, only Emperors utilize this unique breeding behavior.We do not build nests. Instead, we use our warm bodies to incubate and raise our young.

A little after two months, the mamas return from the sea, literally stuffed to the gills with seafood (fish, squid and crustaceans) which they regurgitate to feed the now hatched chicks. We, the daddies, can now leave to trek the 50 to 60 miles to the sea for our own fishing session.

Now the chicks will stay sheltered in their mother's brood pouch for two months. If the chick falls out of that warm spot, it can freeze to death in as little as two minutes.

As the young penguins grow, we leave them in groups of chicks called creches while we leave to fish. Then we return with food to regurgitate for our young. It’s what we call ‘prepared food.’ (Laughs)

Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Let's get this party started.
Let's get this party started.
I love you this much.
I love you this much.

me – I can’t help but wonder why the chicks are born during the coldest winter months.

Percy – As you human folk say, there is method to our madness. There is a reason for the timing of the chicks hatching. By December (our summer), the Antarctic weather is somewhat warmer and the ice begins to break up bringing the open sea closer to our chicks. Now they are old enough to travel to the sea and fish for their own food.

me – I haven’t yet learned if penguins can fly but I do know you are exceptional swimmers.

Percy – That is true. With our sleek, streamlined shape and webbed feet, we spend about half of our lives in the oceans and half on land. We are such excellent swimmers that our swimming agility resembles a bird’s flight in the air.

Dives of the Emperor Penguin have been recorded reaching a depth of 1,870 feet for up to 22 minutes. And that’s without scuba gear.

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Can penguins fly? Watch this video.

Did you see what I saw?
Did you see what I saw?

Percy – Did you watch us flying? Was that remarkable or what? Oh, one thing I should mention. That video you just observed was produced by the BBC – a very reputable organization.

But wait a moment. Do you happen to know the date it was released? April 1, 2008. Isn’t that? …. No, it can’t be … April Fool’s Day?

It’s true – We penguins are aquatic flightless birds highly adapted for life in the water and our wings have, over time, become flippers. We cannot fly in the air. But we do fly . . . through the water!

me – Very clever, Percy. You almost had me hooked with that 'flying penguin' gag. BTW, I’ve been wondering, where did the word, penguin, come from?

Percy – Some dictionaries suggest the word was derived from Welsh - pen gwyn meaning white head. Others link the word to the Latin pinguis which means fat. I prefer the first meaning, of course.

Where's the GPS when you need it?

Sleds are for sissies.
Sleds are for sissies.

me – One of the reasons people love penguins is because you walk upright like humans with a funny, waddling gait. How do you keep your balance?

Percy – We use our tails and our wings, I mean flippers, to help us stay upright as we toddle around like a bunch of tuxedoed Charlie Chaplins. We can also jump with both feet together when we want to move quickly or cross rocky areas.

To save energy we also “toboggan” whenever there is an opportunity.

me – Toboggan? As in sled?

Percy – Yup, we slide on our bellies across the snow and ice. Do humans do that?

me – All the time In the winter whenever we can find a hill covered in snow. But we prefer to use a sled.

Got smelt?
Got smelt?
Who is your tailor?
Who is your tailor?

me – I have noticed that penguins do not appear to have a fear of humans and have approached tourists in Antarctica without hesitation.

Percy – That’s because we have no land predators there. We are at biggest risk at sea from hungry leopard seals. But if people approach us closer than about ten feet, we do become a little nervous.

me – One last question, Percy. Are there any penguins born with other than black plumage?

Percy – Funny you should ask. About one in 50,000 penguins is born with brown rather than black plumage. They are called Isabelline penguins in reference to a fascinating legend. Have you heard about it?

me – No, that legend is news to me.

Percy - It seems that the Archduchess Isabella of Austria vowed not to change her undergarments until her husband united the northern and southern Low Countries by taking the city of Ostend. This significant undertaking took three years to accomplish which explains why Isabella’s undergarments were no longer . . .

me – I get the idea. Thank you, Percy, for telling me almost more than I needed to know. Ciao and good luck with the chicks.

Chilly Willy cartoon

Happy Feet movie

Fairy Penguin
Fairy Penguin
No, you are too young to go on a sleepover.
No, you are too young to go on a sleepover.
Someone needs to cut down on the FISH STICKS!
Someone needs to cut down on the FISH STICKS!
Danny DeVito as The Penguin in "Batman' film
Danny DeVito as The Penguin in "Batman' film

Penguin Phenomena

• ‘Chilly Willy’ is a cartoon penguin living in Fairbanks, Alaska although the species is native only to the southern hemisphere. He was created by Paul J. Smith for the Walter Lantz studio in 1953. Willy soon became the second most popular character after Woody Woodpecker.

Films about penguins have been extremely successful at the box office in the last few years. Among these are 'Happy Feet,' 'Surf's Up,' March of the Penguins,' 'Madagascar' and 'Back to Africa - Madagascar 2.'

About 36 million years ago, a ‘giant’ penguin, 5-foot tall, lived in northern Peru. I kid you not.

Penguins generally only lay one brood; the exception is the Little Penguin, which can raise two or three broods in a season.

Depending on your source, the number of living penguin species varies between 17 and 20.

The smallest penguin species is the Fairy Penguin which is around 16 inches tall and weighs only 2.2 pounds. Larger penguins inhabit colder regions, while smaller penguins are generally found in temperate or even tropical climates, e.g., the Galapagos Islands Penguin lives near the Equator.

Major populations of penguins are found in Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and South Africa.

• Penguins can drink salt water because their supraorbital gland filters excess salt from the bloodstream which is excreted from the nasal passages.

Favorite Penguin Joke

A fellow drives to a gas station and has his tank filled up. When he goes into the station to pay, the clerk spots 4 penguins in the back seat of the car. He asks the driver, "What's up with the penguins in the back seat?"

The man in the car says, "I found them. But I haven’t a clue what I should do with them.”

The clerk thinks for a moment and then says, "You should take them to the zoo."

"Yeah, thanks, that's a good idea," says the man in the car and drives away.

The next day the man with the car is back at the same gas station. The clerk sees the penguins are still in the back seat of the car.

"Hey, the penguins are still here! I thought you were going to take them to the zoo!"

"Oh, I did, I did," says the driver, "and they had such a great time that today I'm taking them to the movies.”

© Copyright BJ Rakow, Ph.D. 2011. All rights reserved. Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So"


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