Point Pleasant Penguin Visits Burnet Hill School

Point Pleasant Penguin Visits Burnet Hill School

By J. L. Shively

Young scientists at Burnet Hill became hands-on researchers with a recent visit from Dr. Bunsen, a penguin from Jenkinson’s Aquarium in Point Pleasant.

According to Livingston School’s Supervisor of Science, Dorian Gemellaro, kindergarten students “study how animals adapt to different environments” as part of their science curriculum.

A perfect specimen for studying these different adaptations is a penguin and seven year old penguin instructor Dr. Bunsen was ready to please.

The students had been learning about penguins in the classroom with many different stories, songs and videos all about Dr. Bunsen’s relatives. To conclude their studies about penguins, the students even compiled their collected knowledge to create a penguin themed performance.

Dr. Bunsen’s visit was organized by Burnet Hill kindergarten teachers and made possible through funds from the kindergarten budget.

When Dr. Bunsen first waddled around the floor in front of the students, Gemellaro recalls that the students immediately “wanted to touch him, but it was explained that that was not good for them or the penguin.”

As Dr. Bunsen explored the room, students were satisfied in just watching him, “they giggled as the penguin waddled by,” Gemellaro says and “all hoped the penguin would come to them.”

One student, Gemellaro states even said, “He’s smiling at me!” and certainly, Dr. Bunsen had a look of content on his face as he explored the room. The penguin had an easy crowd to please, “The teachers were equally enamored with Dr. Bunsen,” Gemellaro states.

Amidst the giggles and excitement, Jenkinson’s staff gave a presentation about penguins and their adaptations as well as the many interesting and intriguing facts about their lifestyle and natural habitat.

Students wore their penguin thinking caps, which they had made as part of their studies and were prepared for the exciting presentation with a live penguin as their guide.

Students were asked to identify that a penguin is a bird, using such features such as having feathers, beaks and laying eggs to come to this conclusion. The kindergarten students also learned that penguins do not necessarily live in cold and icy places. Penguins do live in the Southern Hemisphere but this includes warm places such as the southern tip of Africa.

Carol McCallum, a Jenkinson’s employee, explains that Dr. Bunsen is an African Black-footed Penguin. Dr. Bunsen, McCallum jokes, came to the aquarium through the Species Survival Program, SSP, with is like a “dating service for penguins.” Through a partnership with other zoos and aquariums, staff members can exchange animals who may help procreate for the species.

A penguin’s feathers, McCallum notes, is a perfect example of an adaptation which a penguin has. Penguins, she explains live in areas where they are in danger of predators such as sharks or seals and their feathers afford them a little safety with what is called “counter shading.”

The white coloring on a penguin’s belly keeps them camouflaged with the sun glare from sharks looking up from the water. The black feathers on their backs blend with the darkness of the ocean below them from any animals that may spot them from above.

This presentation also included a discussion about penguin care and feeding as well an explanation about the ongoing effort for penguin conservation.

As McCallum notes, penguins are an endangered species and it is part of the aquarium’s mission to help with conservation and spread the word about conservation efforts. The staff at Jenkinson’s have the goal to help the community care and love for animals in the same way they do, McCallum says, and if people love animals they will be more willing to try and save them.

For more information about the conservation and educational program at Jenkinson’s Aquarium or to schedule a visit at a school or library contact the education department at 732-899-1212.

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