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Wild Animals/Penguin info for a 1st grader!


My daughter Emma (7) has decided that when she grows up, she wants to be an ornithologist and take care of penguins! Emma loves penguins! They are her favorite animal! Her favorite penguin in the Emperor Black Footed Penguin and the Macaroni penguin. We just finished watching March of the Penguins.  This Tuesday is Career Day at her school and she is supposed to dress up! She would like to know what you wear to study and take care of penguins. What tools do you use? Also, how do you become an ornithologist? She would also like to know how penguins know when danger is near? Which penguin weighs the most? What kind of fish does the momma penguin give her baby to eat? Thank you very much!!
Renee McGraw (on behalf of Emma McGraw)

Dyan deNapoli with SANCCOB
Dyan deNapoli with SAN  

Dyan deNapoli with Noir
Dyan deNapoli with Noi  
Hello Emma and Renee,

I'm very happy to hear that you want to work with penguins when you grow up, Emma! To answer your questions, my uniform when I worked in the Penguin Department at the New England Aquarium in Boston consisted of khaki shorts or khaki pants, and a short-sleeved polo shirt with the aquarium's logo on it. We were also provided with long-sleeved fleeces with the aquarium's logo - and we had to wear closed-toed sandals or shoes. When I first worked there, the shirts were an indigo blue, but they later were a dark green. When we were in the penguin exhibit (which had chest-deep water), we wore wetsuits. (See attached photos.)

As for tools, to clean the exhibit we used water hoses, veterinary disinfectant, and brushes with nylon bristles to scrub the guano off of the islands. And we used a pool vacuum to remove the guano from the bottom of the pool. We also used a type of scrubbing pad on a stick called a Doodlebug to scrub the algae off of the pool floor. (It's sort of the like hard side of a scrubbing sponge that you'd use to scrub pots and pans.) We had to use other tools as well for plumbing and other things - such as electric drills and wrenches, etc.

To eventually become an ornithologist, it's important to do well in your science classes. And of course, read every book about birds and penguins that you can get your hands on! And get as much animal-care experience as you can, either by getting a job or volunteering to work with animals. And when it's time to go to college, apply to colleges that have an ornithology program. My degree is actually in veterinary nursing, and my coworkers had various other degrees including biology, marine biology, psychology, and zoology.

As far as knowing when danger is near, that's a tough one to answer. They don't always know - but when entering the ocean, penguins will often stand nervously by the edge of the water because they know there's always the possibility of a predator being nearby. So, no one wants to be the first penguin to go in!

The largest and heaviest penguin is the Emperor penguin, which stand about 3 1/2 to 4 feet tall, and weighs between 65 and 95 pounds. (The males are larger than the females.)

And each of the 18 penguin species eat different foods, depending on where they live. Generally speaking, the four penguin species that live and breed in Antarctica (the Emperor, Chinstrap, Gentoo, and Adelie) eat primarily krill, which is a small, pink, shrimp-like creature. Penguins that live in warmer climates eat mostly fish, and sometimes squid - and the type of fish varies depending on where the penguins live.

Good luck with your Career Day project!

Best wishes,

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Dyan deNapoli


I ONLY ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT PENGUINS. As a recognized penguin expert, I can authoritatively answer any questions about penguins - from biology, behavior, conservation, habitat or the impacts of global warming, to working in an aquarium setting and husbandry management etc. AGAIN, I ANSWER PENGUIN QUESTIONS ONLY - IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT OTHER ANIMALS, PLEASE ASK A DIFFERENT EXPERT. Thank you!


I was a Senior Penguin Aquarist at the New England Aquarium in Boston for nine years, where I co-managed a colony of seventy penguins. I have extensive experience hand-rearing penguin chicks, managing colony health, understanding penguin behavior, and educating the public about penguins. I've been the guest penguin expert on numerous television and radio shows in the US and abroad, have been the content reviewer for three books about penguins, and have spoken at national and international conferences. I have spoken at four TEDx conferences - my TEDx talk about the Treasure oil spill rescue is featured on the main TED website. It can been viewed at In the summer of 2000, I worked as a rehabilitation manager during the rescue of 40,000 African penguins from an oil spill. I wrote an award-winning book about this event, THE GREAT PENGUIN RESCUE, which Simon & Schuster published in October of 2010. In 2006, I founded an educational company called THE PENGUIN LADY, which is devoted to raising awareness and funding to help protect threatened and endangered penguin species. I provide on-site programs about penguins for children and adults, and donate a portion of the proceeds from every appearance to penguin rescue groups.

National Marine Educators Association (NMEA), Massachusetts Marine Educators Association (MMEA), Association of Zoos & Aquariums, International Zoo Educators Association, Author's Guild, International Women's Writing Guild, North Shore Women in Business (NSWIB), North Shore Business Forum, Mount Ida Veterinary Technology Accreditation Committee, Mensa International

On October 26, 2010, Simon & Schuster's Free Press imprint published THE GREAT PENGUIN RESCUE, a book that I wrote about the remarkable rescue of 40,000 penguins from the Treasure oil spill in South Africa. I worked as a rehabilitation supervisor during this historic event. More than 12,500 volunteers labored for three grueling months, after which 95% of the penguins were successfully released back into the wild. THE GREAT PENGUIN RESCUE has won several literary awards, and is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other stores and online retailers. I authored the Penguin chapter for Scholastic Publishing's New Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia (NBK) in 2008, which is also available online at Grolier. (Most libraries have free access to this database.) I wrote the feature cover story (about the Treasure oil spill rescue) for the January 2011 The Mensa Bulletin. A link to that article, title Rescued Treasure, is here: I've had several articles published online, as well as in Mused Literary Magazine. A paper that I wrote about the New England Aquarium's penguin outreach program was published in the AZA conference proceedings journal in 1998.

BS in Animal Science from Mount Ida College in 1996, AZA Conservation Education School - NC State University 1999, PADI Scuba certified in 1995

Awards and Honors
Distinguished Alumni Award from Mount Ida College in 2002 for outstanding contributions in the sciences - award given in recognition of work done as a rehabilitation manager during the rescue of 20,000 penguins from an oil spill in South Africa. Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Mount Ida College in 1996 - awarded for Exceptional Achievement in the Sciences at graduation ceremonies

Past/Present Clients
Numerous schools, colleges, libraries, museums, cruise ships, assisted living facilities, rotary clubs and more. I've been the onboard penguin expert/guest lecturer on nature cruises to the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica. I've also been the guest on numerous TV and radio programs, including CNN, BBC, CBC Radio-Canada, ABC Radio Australia. and Sierra Club Radio. If you wish to obtain specific names or locations, please contact me via e-mail or through my website at

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