The first thing you notice about Marty is how much effort is takes her to swim. With a paralyzed left flipper, each breath seems a heroic effort—yet she perseveres. Marty is one of 15 (mostly) little blue penguins residing at the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand. As her feeders kindly but firmly point out, this part of the International Antarctic Centre is not a zoo, but rather a “second chance facility” for penguins.
Marty’s paddling pool pals have a variety of handicaps, seemingly out of a Disney movie: appropriately named Nick had a bite taken out of his flipper by a shark, Turk needs to be hand-fed following a boating accident that left her tongue paralyzed and Pohatu, believe it or not, is afraid of the water and requires periodic hand baths. These birds would have little to zero chance of surviving in the wild, but here it’s “salmon at Christmas and no predators.” Given the hazards these animals usually face—penguin-vores, disease and humans—their life expectancy is five to seven years, but here they live longer. In fact Toto was 25 years old when he recently passed.
Marty in the middle, someone pointing at her as she solo’s in the tank with her feeder above.
After spending time with these special penguins, you end up feeling that despite their limitations—or perhaps because of them—you end up with a better understanding of them and their world. Their handicaps help forge an emotional bond that is so vital to encouraging a caring and responsible approach to these magnificent animals. To paraphrase a well-known conservationist rallying cry: “In the end we will conserve only what we love.”
Marty in her corner with her sign.
When Marty first came to the International Antarctic Centre, she could swim only in circles. Now she swims in reasonably straight lines—with occasional help from the observation window—and goes absolutely wild when feedings begin. So while Marty and other little blues are the smallest of the penguin family (45 cm versus their better known emperor brethren at 130 cm), they play a big role in connecting their species and humans. Kudos to The International Antarctic Centre for their second chance facility—it highlights an enlightened approach for others to follow in bringing the wildlife of our planet into the hearts and minds of people everywhere.