Operation Find Me a Penguin

by Brian Carroll on May 12, 2012

Post image for Operation Find Me a Penguin When I think of penguins, I naturally think of Antarctica, or maybe this.  One thing that usually doesn't come to mind when you think of penguins is the beach, but that's surprisingly the case in a few areas of New Zealand. In New Zealand, the primary area to see these guys waddle around is in Dunedin, a city that also lays claim to some other random facts - having the steepest street in the world and being modeled after the town of Edinburgh, Scotland.  Now while those things are kinda cool in their own right, our reason for coming to Dunedin was centered on one main thing if you haven't figured it out yet - the penguins...specifically the endangered yellow-eyed version which we'd be able to see through a special tour.
Home of the Albatross

Home of the Albatross

But before visiting the penguin habitat, Nuria and I enjoyed a pleasant and sunny drive on the peninsula (excluding a hedgehog encounter), checking out another sanctuary that is home to the albatross (looks like a seagull with a wingspan 3 or 4 times larger basically). Around 5pm that evening, we embarked on our penguin expedition.  One thing I didn't know coming into this excursion was that to have the best shot of seeing penguins in the wild, you need to be looking for them at dusk, as this is when they come back each night from their "9 to 5" of swimming and hunting in the ocean. With this particular type of penguin, there were a number of unique things we learned during our tour as well:
  1. The yellow-eyed penguin is an endangered animal and the rarest of penguin species
  2. There are no yellow-eyed penguins in captivity (i.e. a zoo) anywhere in the world and they are only found in the south of New Zealand
  3. They are the 3rd biggest penguin breed and are the only anti-social penguin.  Basically, once they find their mate, they setup nests far away from other penguins and don't interact with any other penguins.  Kinda like those friends we all have who get a girlfriend/boyfriend and then never see/hear from again.
  4. Depending on the time of year, penguins shed their coat (similar to snakes) and grow into a brand new one.  During a period of this transition, their feathers are no longer waterproof, so they spend additional time on land until they ultimately secrete a waterproof-like liquid from their tails which is then spread on their feathers by fellow penguins to provide the needed water resistance.  Kinda cool!
With some yellow-eyed penguin knowledge absorbed, we made our way into the sanctuary, which essentially is a private beach that runs up against the land where sheep graze (there were some videos of the penguins interacting with sheep which was pretty funny and random).

Me and Mr. Penguin. Look closely

Anyways, our tour guide walked us throughout the sanctuary  in search of the four penguins that lived there.  The grounds were large so the time it might take to spot them could vary but almost from the outset we had great success, finding a couple waddling amongst the grass and then later, watching one of them swim in a nearby lake as if it were a duck (with a duck nearby actually).  Again, just seemed out of place from what most people would expect to see from penguins, but funny in its own right. All in all, it was a cool experience and something I was happy to have done.

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