How Pierre the penguin got back in the swim again

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A A A

Pierre is a penguin in a penguin suit. A penguin swimsuit, that is.

The 25-year-old African penguin lives at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco but, until recently, he had been having a hard time enjoying the institute's water tank along with his fellow penguins.

The reason? He's been losing some of the waterproof feathers that penguins use to keep themselves warm while they swim and play. In fact, his pink rear end has become almost completely exposed.

The scientists at the academy took pity on him as they observed him shivering on the sidelines while his 19 fellow penguins – a variety known as jackasses because they make noises similar to braying donkeys – jumped in and frolicked in the water.

Pam Schaller, a senior acquatic biologist at the Academy of Sciences and Pierre's chief minder, began racking her brain for a solution. She tried a heat lamp, but it wasn't entirely effective. Then she thought of the surfers who dive with their boards in the Pacific Ocean every morning and she had a brainwave. If surfers can wear a wetsuit, she thought, why can't a penguin?

She contacted a diving gear specialist across the San Francisco Bay in suburban San Leandro, and they were only too happy to come up with a workable design.

"We were really excited to do it," said Teo Tertel, marketing specialist aOceanic Worldwide, who are one of the biggest manufacturers of wetsuits worldwide. "We heard most of these penguins only live to 20, and our little buddy there was already 25. Anything we could do to help them, we were all for it."

The suit they came up with has a Velcro fastener at the back, covers the penguin's torso and has small openings for his flippers. It took several fittings to get the design just right. "I would walk behind him and look at where there were any gaps, and cut and refit and cut and refit until it looked like it was extremely streamlined," Dr Schaller said.

The experiment has proved to be a success. In the six weeks since Pierre started wearing the suit, he has been thriving, able to plunge into water and interact normally with his fellow penguins. He has gained weight and has even grown new feathers to help cover up that pink behind. His penguin friends don't seem to mind that he looks at bit different – they all have white stomachs while his, with the suit on, is black.

As his health has improved, he has also started taking dips with the suit off. Dr Schaller said it was hard to say if the suit contributed to his improved condition. But she added: "Certainly we were able to keep him comfortable during a period of time that would have been very difficult for him to stay comfortable."

In the wild, the jackass penguin is found only off the coast of southern Africa. Their numbers have decreased from 1.2 million birds in 1930 to 120,000 today.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test