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    Tuesday, November 29, 2022

    At 35, some of Mystic Aquarium’s penguins are the oldest in the country

    Chelsea Anderson, DVM, chief clinical veterinarian at Mystic Aquarium, examines Red Pink, a 35-year old male African black-footed penguin in the aquarium’s medical suite Friday, November 18, 2022. Red Pink, one of the oldest penguins in the aquarium’s rookery, is recovering from treatment for a malignant melanoma. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Chelsea Anderson, DVM, chief clinical veterinarian at Mystic Aquarium, shows the area on the head of Red Pink, a 35-year old male African black-footed penguin, where a malignant melanoma was treated in the aquarium’s medical suite Friday, November 18, 2022. Red Pink, one of the oldest penguins in the aquarium’s rookery, is recovering from treatment for a malignant melanoma. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Bridget Cronin, senior trainer for penguins, feeds the African black-footed penguins in the aquarium’s Roger Tory Peterson Penguin Pavilion Friday, November 18, 2022. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Stonington ― Two penguins at Mystic Aquarium are challenging expectations for longevity and health under the care of a dedicated team of experts.

    A colony of 32 African Penguins calls the aquarium home, and two identified as “Red Green” and “Red Pink” have been here since the beginning.

    The aquarium does not name their penguins, opting to call them by the plastic colored beads on their tags which refer to numbers.

    Red Green, a 35-year, and seven-month-old African penguin is recognizable by the two red and two green beads on his tag, which correspond to the number 03. Red Green was the third penguin to arrive at the aquarium when the habitat opened in 1989. Fellow colony member, Red Pink, a bit younger at 35, was the ninth penguin to arrive.

    “The median life span out in the open ocean is only 15 years, but even the median age in zoos and aquariums is 17 years,” said Tracy Camp, the aquarium’s supervisor of penguins.

    In fact, Red Green is the oldest living male penguin at any of the 51 facilities that comprise the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in the United States, though he has another eight years to go before he breaks the record of 43.

    More than half of the aquarium’s colony of penguins already exceeds the median life span for the species, which is native to South Africa and Namibia, including Red Green’s mate who is almost 35. African Penguins mate for life and the two have been together for more than thirty years.

    “Just because they are old doesn’t mean we aren’t going to treat them. What’s really important for us, here, is that we take really good care of our animals to the best of our ability and if there is something that they need, then we are going to get it for them,” said Dr. Chelsea Anderson, chief clinical veterinarian.

    At the aquarium, nesting season begins in mid-December, when the birds will begin to prepare their nests for eggs which take between 38 and 42 days to hatch.

    “Hopefully by spring we might have some new additions to the colony — maybe even a chick from Red Green here, the oldest male in the country,” said Camp.

    The penguins receive extensive care. Their varied diet includes herring, anchovies and squid, which they swallow whole because they do not have teeth. They receive top quality health care including laser therapy and even acupuncture.

    “It shows what you can do to take care of animals when you have world-class care, an amazing veterinarian team that there’s no lengths they won’t go to ― and the proof is in the pudding when you have birds that are far exceeding their expected life span,” Camp said.

    In fact, Red Pink, who does not have the distinction of being the oldest at a mere 35, is notable in his own right, because he recently underwent treatment for melanoma.

    In April, the penguin team noted a lump on his face near his beak and brought it to the attention of the veterinary team. A biopsy confirmed it was melanoma.

    “When we first noticed the mass and went down this path, he wasn’t acting differently; he was totally fine, but if that mass continued to grow, and we didn’t do anything, it was getting close to encroaching on his brain,” Anderson said.

    She added Red Pink was also at risk of losing his vision and neurological complications.

    Red Pink was treated by a veterinary oncologist in Boston with four rounds of radiation and a melanoma vaccine developed for dogs. At the conclusion of his treatment, he received a “Cancer Survivor” cape, and his name was put on the wall among the names of the other patients at the veterinary clinic, primarily cats and dogs.

    “Did we cure it? I don’t know,” said Anderson, who noted the mass has become significantly smaller, and they would know more when he has another CT scan six months after treatment.

    African Penguins are an endangered species, and the 10,000 breeding pairs left in the wild comprises only three percent of their historical numbers.

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