Amazing New Animals
African penguins Monty, Poppy and Bixby all hatched in the Aquarium's penguin colony in 2018 — Monty and Poppy in January, Bixby in July.
Visitors could see the chicks on exhibit for about a month before we moved them behind the scenes to gain weight and learn swimming skills before rejoining the flock in our Splash Zone.
Two other hatchlings remain in our penguin colony: Rey (June 2014) and Amigo (August 2016). Two male hatchlings, Pebble and Tola, were transferred to the colony at Dallas World Aquarium, and a female, Maq, is now at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh.
All of our birds are part of a species survival plan for threatened African penguins. The program, managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), maintains the genetic health of more than 800 African penguins housed at 50 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums.
Our social media followers loved hearing about the adventures of African penguin chicks Monty and Poppy.
Aviculturists must sometimes slowly and carefully assist in the hatching of penguin chicks.
SOS for African penguins
Curator of Aviculture Aimee Greenebaum worked with our African penguins for more than a decade before seeing one in the wild. In the fall, she traveled to South Africa to help rehabilitate sick and injured penguins and feed rescued, undernourished chicks.
Aimee, like others on her team before her, spent several weeks with the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, the leading conservation organization working to recover this endangered species. Duties included feeding and cleaning up after dozens of penguins each day. The reward for this messy and difficult work is the opportunity to release healthy birds back into the wild.
The wild African penguin population has fallen by more than 97 percent in the past century. One factor is overfishing, which has left Africa's only penguin species with less food. Climate change may also be warming local waters, forcing penguins to swim miles farther to find fish in colder water. The effort exhausts many penguins — some fatally. They are vulnerable to other threats, too, such as oil spills and plastic pollution.
Aimee is pleased that she and her team could travel to South Africa to help with rescue and recovery efforts for the birds' wild kin, and gain valuable experience in treating sick birds.
The Aquarium also took part in a 2017 "Invest in the Nest" fundraising campaign with our AZA colleagues. The project aims to solve another major challenge to the penguins' recovery: a lack of appropriate, safe nesting areas where they can lay their eggs and rear their chicks. The campaign raised enough money to place 2,000 nest boxes, which the wild penguins are beginning to use, on beaches in South Africa and Namibia.
Breakthroughs in culturing comb jellies
Thanks to the imagination and perseverance of our jelly team, we continued exhibiting several stunning comb jelly species, including the spotted comb jelly, Leucothea pulchra — one of the most beautiful and fragile of its kind.
Also mesmerizing visitors in our Drifters gallery are a steady supply of sea gooseberries, Pleurobrachia bachei and Hormiphora californensis, the common Northern comb jelly, Bolinopsis infundibulum and warty comb jelly, Mnemiopsis leidyi.
Comb jellies captivate because they languidly move through liquid space while refracting light to dazzling effect, generating flashing patterns of rainbow light.
Our team can reliably produce generations of healthy comb jellies, thanks to improved and streamlined methods to culture these challenging ctenophores.
Sea gooseberries (Pleurobrachia bachel)
Spotted comb jelly (Leucothea pulchra)
New seabirds, new stories
We welcomed two new seabirds into our rescued flock: Alika, a young Laysan albatross, and Sula, a red-footed booby.
The two birds join 11-year-old Makana, a Laysan albatross who has become a superstar ambassador for seabirds and other marine life facing grave threats from ocean plastic pollution. Her daily program at the Kelp Forest exhibit helps us share with visitors what's at stake from this growing crisis.
Alika, just over a year old, joined Makana as only the second Laysan albatross at an accredited zoo or aquarium in the United States. Alika's name means "protector" or "guardian" in Hawaiian. Like Makana, she was injured as a chick, unable to survive in the wild and in need of a permanent home. Alika is a companion for Makana, and visitors will often see both on behind-the-scenes tours.
Our rescued seabirds help visitors connect with ocean conservation issues such as plastic pollution and marine debris.
Sula, whose age is unknown, was injured by a fishing hook and unable to survive on her own. Her name comes from the scientific name for the red-footed booby, Sula sula.
Staff at SeaWorld San Diego rescued her and nursed her back to health. But after several release attempts, it was determined that Sula couldn’t be returned to the wild. We offered her a permanent home. Her story is an example of how another ocean pollution problem, forgotten fishing gear, can harm seabirds and other ocean animals.
Our team is now training Sula to become more comfortable around people, and she may eventually take part in public programs and interact with guests.