By David Pendered
The fun travels of the make-believe Waddlesworth family are slated to come to an end when the family arrives at the Georgia Aquarium, just in time to celebrate Penguin Awareness Day on Jan. 20.
The Waddlesworths are African penguins. George Waddlesworth has a gig as the official spokes-penguin of the Georgia Aquarium and already is in Atlanta. George will become the mascot of the aquarium’s African penguin colony, which is part of a sanctioned Species Survival Plan Program.
The Waddlesworth family is coming from South Africa to join George. The family has chronicled its trip on a whimsical Facebook travelogue page.
So far, the family has stopped in nine places and now is enjoying time in Savannah. Their stories from each locale mix recollections of aquarium programs with the family’s present-day adventures.
For example, Liz writes in her Dec. 11 report from Taiwan that:
- “I’m excited about the most magnificent creatures here: whale sharks. It was 10 years ago when whale sharks made the identical journey we’re making to the Georgia Aquarium.”
Then Liz writes of her daughter, Willow:
- “Willow did exchange text numbers with one of the boy whale sharks. I think she has a crush on him. But I don’t think it will go anywhere. Tweenagers!”
In a travelogue dated Monday, George writes on his separate Facebook page that his family has arrived in Savannah:
- “Well this is going to be quite a week, Facebook friends. One more stop for the family, and then we will FINALLY be reunited. They’re in Savannah now, visiting with the sea turtles. Bobby is excited because he has finally found someone he can outrun in the 60-yard dash. That kid. Check out what Liz wrote: http://bit.ly/WaddlesworthJourney”
Liz is described as the brains of the family. She’s the first female penguin marine biologist. She was drawn to the field after an oil tanker sank of the coast of South Africa in 2000, oiling 20,000 penguins. Liz’s website says she is the real reason the Georgia Aquarium recruited George for the spokes-penguin position.
Clearly, the Waddlesworths are all about bringing attention to the challenged African penguin.
Six years ago, the bird’s status was downgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered on the Red List maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. A story about the downgrade that appeared in a blog of National Geographic reported:
- “African Penguins have been sliding towards extinction since industrial fishing started around the Cape [of Good Hope]. The last four years have seen a population crash. BirdLife International has changed their conservation status to ‘Endangered,’” BirdLife South Africa said in a news statement.”
At the aquarium, the colony is housed in the Georgia Pacific Cold Water Quest gallery. The colony has produced 24 chicks since 2012.
That’s a small but significant gain for a species that has had a population decline of 90 percent in the 20th century, according to a statement from the aquarium. Challenges stem from oil spills, guano collection and commercial fishing that depletes the penguin’s source of food.