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Whirlpool! (Life/Animal Behavior).

Six newcomers to the San Francisco Zoo made an unexpected splash last December. Upon arrival, the Magellanic penguins from SeaWorld in Ohio promptly plunged into the penguin pool. And much to penguin-keeper Jane Tollini's surprise, "In one hour, the zoo's 46 other penguins--from babies to old geezers--left their burrows and dove in the pool, too." Since then, all the seabirds have been swimming into exhaustion. What gives?

In the wild, Magellanic penguins live on the southernmost coasts of South America and migrate every fall: They set off on a 5-month-long swimfest north to warm waters off Brazil, where they fatten up on fish before swimming back home to mate and molt (shed all their feathers). Molting is an essential function, as the birds' oily, waterproof feathers wear out during the year.

The six Ohio penguins routinely embarked on a mock migration in their SeaWorld pool every winter, Tollini explains. But the San Francisco Zoo's penguins wintered in nesting-burrows. "Swimming is natural penguin behavior--but not in the 19 years penguins have been at this zoo," she says.

So how did the "Ohio six" manage to change the San Francisco flock's habits? "It's beyond me," Tollini admits.

There may be a simple answer, says Ken Ramirez of Chicago's Shedd Aquarium: Penguins are social birds and behave as a group. When the Ohio six started swimming, the others' instincts (inherited behavior tendencies) told them to join in. "It's like a conga line," says Tollini--who hopes the birds quit before spring.

PENGUINS ON THE GO

Speniscus magellanicus inhabit the southern costs of South America. If the seabirds torpedo through the water at 15 miles per hour, how long would it take them to migrate from Tierra del Fuego to Rio de Janeiro?

FACTS

* Height: 18 inches

* Weight: 6-7 pounds

* Life span: 25 years in the wild, 30 years in captivity

* Diet: Squid, cuttlefish, sardines in the wild; herring and smelt at the S.F. Zoo
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Article Details
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Author:Masibay, Kim Y.
Publication:Science World
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 28, 2003
Words:321
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