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Farewell, Mr. Sea: Our beloved, oldest penguin passes away

Posted by Gigi Allianic, Communications

Woodland Park Zoo said goodbye to Mr. Sea, a male Humboldt penguin. Due to a decline in health, he has been humanely euthanized. The geriatric penguin was two months shy of his 32nd birthday. Mr. Sea was the oldest penguin at the zoo and one of the oldest of his species in North America. Forty penguins remain in our zoo’s colony.

Mr. Sea was not only our oldest penguin, he was one of the oldest of his species in North America. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Because of his advanced age, our dedicated penguin keepers and animal health team members have been closely monitoring Mr. Sea for some time. They noticed during the last several weeks, that his appetite and activity level were down.

The median life expectancy for Humboldt penguins that survive their first year is 17.6 years for both males and females. Mr. Sea has been part of our penguin colony for 11 years. He fathered nine offspring at his former home and at the zoo; he leaves a legacy of 12 viable grandchicks, great-grandchicks and great-great grandchicks.

Mr. Sea leaves a legacy of 12 grandchicks, great-grandchicks and great-great grandchicks! Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

“Mr. Sea was a special penguin because of his social personality and was a favorite of our staff and volunteers,” said Mark Myers, bird curator at Woodland Park Zoo. He really enjoyed his daily interactions with keepers and especially liked the extra attention he received during his physical rehabilitation sessions. He will be missed.”

As a standard procedure, the zoo’s animal health team will perform a necropsy (an animal autopsy) to determine factors that contributed to his decline. “Results will be shared nationally among scientific colleagues to help advance the understanding of medical issues in penguins,” said Dr. Darin Collins, director of animal health at Woodland Park Zoo. The cause of death is pending final pathology tests in several weeks.

Through our geriatric care program, Mr. Sea received laser therapy, massage and acupuncture. All of it allowed him a good quality of life for many years. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

In late 2015, staff began closely monitoring Mr. Sea’s quality of life. “At that time, we noticed geriatric-related changes in his mobility and activity patterns. He was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and prescribed a program of pain medications and physical rehabilitation that included laser therapy, massage and acupuncture,” said Collins. “Through our geriatric care program, we were able to maintain an acceptable quality of life for Mr. Sea for many years.”

Many animal species are living longer in zoos largely due to the evolving field of zoo medicine. “Improved husbandry and management techniques, geriatric care, enhanced species-specific nutritional plans, medical breakthroughs, diagnostic and therapeutic techniques, and comprehensive enrichment programs have contributed to extending the life expectancies of animals in zoos,” explained Collins.

Mr. Sea's long life is a testament to the extraordinary care provided by his keepers and our Animal Health team.  Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

As part of its exemplary animal care, Woodland Park Zoo practices physical rehabilitation to help alleviate discomfort from an injury or surgical treatment, to improve circulation or range of motion and coordination and to enhance life quality. It is particularly beneficial for treating age-related changes, such as arthritis, and can help reduce the need or amount of other medications.

A vulnerable species, approximately 32,000 Humboldt penguins survive in their natural range. Woodland Park Zoo has long been committed to conserving the species by supporting The Center for Conservation of the Humboldt Penguin in Punta San Juan, Peru, participating in the conservation breeding program through the Humboldt Penguin Species Survival Plan, and encouraging visitors to choose sustainable seafood options as directed by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. Punta San Juan is home to approximately 5,000 Humboldt penguins, the largest colony in Peru.

Penguin Points
  • Unlike their ice and snow-dwelling Antarctic cousins, Humboldt penguins live among the hot, dry coastlines of Peru and Chile.
  • Penguins are playful by nature and also noisy. Their vocalizations sound much like a donkey braying.
  • These birds are built to swim. Using their strong wings, they “fly” underwater, usually just below the surface, at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour, steering with their feet and tail.
  • Humboldt penguins lose all their feathers each year and systematically replace them with new feathers in a process called molting, which can take up to a few weeks.

Many of our ZooParent adoption kits include an adorable plush animal. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo

In honor of Mr. Sea, we hope you will consider adopting a penguin through Woodland Park Zoo’s ZooParent Animal Adoption Program. A portion of each adoption goes to support penguin conservation in the field.