Close encounters of the ‘bird’ kind

Moody Gardens penguins

GALVESTON, Texas – If you’ve visited the Moody Gardens Aquarium in Galveston, then you know one of the first exhibits you come to is the tuxedo-clad penguins, diving and jumping and waddling in their 45° paradise. In fact, there are 107 penguins at the aquarium, all with arm bands and names and loving care representing about half of the 18 penguin species from around the world.

Moody Gardens allows an up-close and penguin-personal encounter with these enchanting feathered friends. Yes, feathers -- after all, they are birds! For some reason I thought penguins would have a seal-like covering but I was wrong. And that tuxedo look is a Mother Nature favor to protect the penguins from predators while swimming -- looking down at them, their black backs blend with the dark ocean while looking up at them their white fronts blend with the sky. A little penguin protection built-in! I had a lot to learn, so gathered a flock of friends and off we flew for the experience!

Kevin, me and our friends, Lance and Kristi McCleod

Penguins are actually pretty friendly -- and we met two, Hendrix and Marley -- there are themes for naming the different groups. Yes, there is a J.J. Watt among them. If the penguin is “feeling you,” he or she will come around for a gentle back massage:

Kevin doing a little penguin petting

I learned penguins are free-feeders -- they eat tons -- literally -- of farmed herring, but don’t scarf it down, but rather just eat until done, and maybe come back for more later. And they are incredible artists! We chose a yellow and blue paint for a Marley masterpiece:

MARLEY at work!
Our Peng-casso

You can see our Peng-casso above! Get ready for a full-stomach story: I asked how in the world anyone thought to get penguins to paint pictures. Remember all that herring they eat? Well, penguins enjoy traipsing through their poop and then tracking it around, so why not turn a rather gross part into great art?! Not to worry, the paint is harmless and comes right off their feet as soon as they jump into the water!

A big thanks to our personal Penguin guide, biologist Janie for a fabulous, 45 minutes of education and fun:

Our Penguin tour guide, Biologist Janie

You may notice behind her a sign about the endangerment facing penguins due to climate change and over-fishing, entanglement in nets, oil spills and marine debris. A cleaner world will be safer for us and all sea life! If you have a penchant for penguins, you can learn more about an up-close and personal meet-and-greet right here.

Thanks Marley!

Dive in!


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About the Authors:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with four decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.