Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is celebrating the holidays by announcing two new additions to their endangered African penguin family. The first chick hatched at the Gulfarium, located on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, on December 13th, 2020, with the second following close behind, just four days later.
These penguin chicks will bring the number of chicks in the Gulfarium's penguin colony that were born to parents, Ninja and Jelly, to six. Ninja and Jelly's first chick, Becky, hatched in December 2016 and quickly became a well-known member of the Gulfarium's animal family. Becky's brother, Toto, hatched on September 12th, 2018, Timmy, their third chick hatched on December 23rd, 2019, and Sami hatched in March 2020.
In order to allow the adult penguins the opportunity to provide the best possible care for the chicks, the first hatched is being raised by its parents, Ninja and Jelly, and the second hatched chick is currently being raised by surrogate parents, mated pair Becky and Mooshu. Becky and Mooshu successfully raised their first hatched chick, Tin, in February of this year.
The chicks are currently out in the Gulfarium’s penguin habitat but visitors to the park are unlikely to spot the new additions as they will stay protected and kept warm underneath their parents within the viewable penguin huts. The chicks will be raised by the adult penguins for the first 3 weeks of their lives but will be moved off exhibit once they become more mobile until they have grown their waterproof feathers and learned how to swim.
“We are extremely happy with the progress that these young chicks have made so far,” states Patrick Berry, Gulfarium’s Senior Vice President. “Our animal care specialists monitor the growth of the chicks with frequent weight checks to ensure that everything is going well. These African penguins are an endangered species so our team is doing everything we can to not only protect this species from extinction, but also teach our guests about what they can do to help. Through the experiences and education that we provide here at the Gulfarium, we hope to inspire our guests to respect and love wildlife as much as we do."
The public is invited to follow the chick's progress on Gulfarium's Facebook page. All updates, including milestones will be made available via Facebook.
The Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center in Northwest Florida has taken in twelve Kemp’s ridley sea turtles that were recently stranded off the coast of New England during a recent mass cold-stun event. The sea turtles made the trip down from Massachusetts to Florida on Monday, December 14th, 2020.
The C.A.R.E. Center would like to thank Turtles Fly Too and their pilots Chuck Yanke and Julie Tromblay for transporting the sea turtles to the local area by private plane, where they were then collected and immediately taken to the C.A.R.E. Center for rehabilitation.
Cold stunning occurs when a sea turtle is exposed to cold water for an extended period of time. This exposure causes their heartrate to decrease, resulting in the turtle becoming lethargic and often unable to eat. Unfortunately, cold stunning events, where large numbers of sea turtles become stranded, are not unusual in Northern areas during the months of November through February as water temperatures drop below 50 degrees.
Upon arrival at the C.A.R.E. Center, the veterinary team assessed each individual turtle, took x-rays and determined the best plan of action to care for these endangered animals. These sea turtles will stay at the C.A.R.E. Center for rehabilitation until they are deemed releasable by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The recovery process can take up to a few months for cold-stunned turtles, but once their health has improved they will be released into the Gulf of Mexico.
“We are so grateful to be able to help these sea turtles from the Northeastern seaboard of the Atlantic due to a cold-stun event they recently experienced ,” explains Terra Throgmmorton, Gulfarium’s Medical and Stranding Coordinator. “Kemp’s ridleys are the most endangered species of sea turtle in the world, so anything that we can do to try to conserve this precious species is vital. We are so thankful for everyone involved who has helped us to provide the best possible veterinary care for these turtles.”
The Gulfarium's C.A.R.E. Center successfully released four rehabilitated sea turtles on Tuesday afternoon, October 27th, 2020 at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park off of West County Highway 30A.
Despite the rainy weather, there were smiling faces all around as the Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center released some of it's recent patients. "It's been an extremely busy sea turtle season for our C.A.R.E team," states Will Merrill, Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park's president. "Watching the turtles head back out into the Gulf is always an exciting and joyous event for all!"
All four sea turtles that were released were juvenile greens that had been reported by fishermen at Navarre Beach Fishing Pier.
The first turtle to be released was Pinny, weighing 42.5lbs, who was hooked in the mouth on September 25th, 2020. The hook fell out prior to arrival to the C.A.R.E. Center but radiographs showed two ingested hooks and a fishing swivel in her intestines. These items all passed naturally without the need for surgery. This was Pinny's fifth visit to the C.A.R.E. Center, with her first visit back in 2018.
Blackfin was next to be released back into the Gulf. This sea turtle was found entangled in fishing line, wrapped around pier piling on July 12th, 2020. Fortunately, radiographs revealed that no foreign debris or fishing gear had been ingested by the turtle but he did need to be treated for pneumonia before being ready for release.
The two smallest turtles, Dot and Links, weighing 11lbs and 9.5lbs, were both released at the same time. Dot was superficially hooked in the left front flipper on October 15th, 2020. The hook was removed and radiographs showed no other ingested marine debris or fishing gear so Dot was quickly ready for release. This was Dot's second visit to the C.A.R.E. Center, with her first stay lasting from June 28th through August 24th, 2020 due to receiving surgery for the removal of a hook from her esophagus.
Links arrived at the C.A.R.E. Center on October 8th, 2020 after being hooked in the mouth by fishermen. The hook was removed upon arrival to the center and radiographs revealed no ingested foreign debris. "Links arrived at the C.A.R.E. Center with a missing rear right flipper," explains Terra Throgmorton, Gulfarium's Medical & Stranding Coordinator. "This was from a previously healed traumatic injury which also resulted a an injured carapace. We monitored the wound and were very happy with how well it healed!"
Becky, a visitor favorite at the Gulfarium, hatched at the park in 2016 and laid her first ever clutch of eggs with mate Mooshu at the start of this year. As these are Becky's first chicks, one chick will be looked after by Ninja and Jelly, Becky's parents while Becky concentrates fully on raising her first ever chick. The chicks will be raised by the adult penguins for the first 3 weeks of their lives but will be moved off exhibit once they become more mobile until they have grown their waterproof feathers and learned how to swim.
At just three months old, Timmy, Becky's brother who hatched back in December 2019, has reached his full height and weight. Now that Timmy has his waterproof coat, he will begin swimming classes. Bryan Martin, Gulfarium's Director of Animal Management, states how important it is to monitor the pace for the penguins chicks, so the Gulfarium will adjust care based on Timmy’s needs.
The African penguin is an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. African penguins, known for their “tuxedo look,” live off the coast of Africa, where oil spills can be very problematic for the birds.
Martin said many people assume penguins ingest the oil, but the real issue is that the oil removes their waterproof coating, removing their ability to swim and find food. “Their biggest threat is pollution and also overfishing,” Martin said. The Gulfarium is one of several facilities all over the country working to increase the number of penguins through breeding programs and genetic diversity. “We have to give them a chance to come back,” he said.
A California sea lion pup has been born at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park! The little pup was welcomed into the world June 17th, marking the first sea lion birth at the Gulfarium in over 10 years. This is also the first pup for 6-year old Tabby, making the event even more special.
Colleen Cassidy, Tabby’s trainer, said she was overjoyed about her “favorite” sea lion giving birth.
“I’m a grandma,” Cassidy said jokingly. “We found out that Tabby was pregnant in January. She was behaving oddly so we tested her blood and confirmed the pregnancy with an ultrasound.”
“Due to the way their bodies are, it’s sometimes hard to tell if sea lions are pregnant,” states Bryan Martin, Gulfarium’s Director of Animal Management. “Luckily, because we spend so much time with our animals, we learn to notice the little signs and behavioral changes.”
Towards the end of her pregnancy, Tabby was monitored by Gulfarium staff 24 hours a day.
“It’s amazing to have such dedicated staff,” Martin said. “I’m just so proud of our team and all the work that they do.”
For now, Tabby and the pup are spending close time together in an exhibit that was specially built for the pair. The pup is still learning how to swim, so she currently only has access to smaller pool. However, when the time is right, both Tabby and her pup will be with the other sea lions in the larger habitats.