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Access Points 26: African penguin at Georgia Aquarium

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Did you recognize this week's Access Point? It's an African penguin at Georgia Aquarium -- just a little easier to see when it slows down. AJC photos by Jamie Gumbrecht

This is an African penguin, one of 19 that lives at Georgia Aquarium. Commenter Lora was right about the place in this week’s Access Points photo game, but it’s quite a bit smaller than a whale — most African penguins weigh 6 to 7 pounds. (Mallory was the first to guess correctly! Woohoo!)

One of these birds was the star of a recent film, “Love Lost and Found: A Penguin Odyssey.”

It’s so cute, you may have seen me squealing about it on Twitter.

Here it is:

Dodo, a 5-year-old penguin who came to the aquarium from Portugal, is the star. He was young when he arrived in Atlanta — still mostly gray, instead of his mature black-and-white — and a nervous little bird. Over many “enrichment sessions” with “environmental enrichment objects” — husbandry speak for “playtime with toys” — aquarium staffer came to learn this little guy loves to be with people, and really likes a work out.

Sometimes, in the mornings, he’s allowed to run through the Aquarium’s atrium, following his human caretakers. When the aquarium’s PR folks heard about this, they thought it was brilliant — but how to show this to people?

The answer, of course, was a music video.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, they shot footage of Dodo following a carefully concealed Aquarium worker.  Mix that up with “Wings of Love” by Jeffrey Osborne and just like that, you’ve got 20,000 views on YouTube.

“We’re really proud of Dodo and how far he’s come,” explained Jennifer Odell, the associate curator of mammals and birds. “He deserves a director’s chair with a star on back.”

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He'd look noble if he weren't so freaking cute.

There’s a supporting cast, too. The romance is played out by some body doubles, Manu and Frodo. African penguins pair-bond for life, returning to the same breeding ground every year in search of the same mate. Manu and Frodo are a couple, and, um, willing to show it on camera.

All the nuzzling is typical — we’re will inside the peak mating season of November-March — and all the playing is part of their usual enrichment activities, Odell says. Caretakers often use a felt-type fabric to work with the penguins, who like to carry it around and add it to their nests. This time, the material was cut into heart shapes.

Georgia Aquarium’s penguins haven’t yet produced a chick, but Odell says “we would love for that to happen.” They’re working toward it, too, using the Species Survival Plan to match good genetic pairs,that will keep folks from pulling more from their native South Africa. The African penguin population is listed as vulnerable, with about 120,000 left in the wild. That’s down 90 percent in 60 years, according to the Georgia Aquarium. They’re threatened by natural competition and predation, but also by oil spills, commercial overfishing of its prey species and poachers who kill for its skin.

The Aquarium also is building a new penguin exhibition that will allow better keeper access and more windows to watch. It’s expected to open later this year inside the Cold Water Quest area.

For now, though, here’s more stupid-cute penguin footage of Dodo, Manu and Frodo — “Love Lost and Found,” the blooper reel:

Want to go? Georgia Aquarium, 225 Baker St. N.W. Atlanta. $26-$35. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday-Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday.  404-581-4000,

For instant updates, follow @insideaccess on Twitter.

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[...] pm February 24, 2010, by Jamie Gumbrecht UPDATE 2/25: Want to know the answer? Here it is! Does this look familiar? Share your guess about what and where it is in the [...]