Penguins are accustomed to cool waters with their thick layer of blubber and water-resistant feathers keeping them warm. But for Pierre, a 25-year-old African Penguin at the California Academy of Sciences, his feathers weren't holding up to their end of the bargain. For a strange and unknown reason, his protective layer of slick feathers began falling off, causing him to avoid the water and shiver on the sidelines while his pool mates played. Sad. So, how would scientists help him get back in the game? By fitting him with a customized wetsuit of course!
Since wetsuits allow humans to keep warm when diving into cold sea water, why not whip one up to help out a penguin? After making an attempt at warming him with a heat lamp, Pam Schaller, a senior aquatic biologist at the academy, called in the experts from a San Leandro-based dive shop to help get Pierre fitted with his new get-up. The first-of-its-kind suit fastens with Velcro in the rear and accommodates his flippers with openings in the sides. Schaller said:
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.
And good news: thanks to the custom wetsuit, and creative thinking from Pam, Pierre's feathers have started to grow back and he's back in the water!