A unique aspect of the local aquarium at Jenkinson’s Boardwalk is its penguin exhibit. Even at some of the nation’s most famous aquariums, penguins are a rarity, but they have always been a staple for visitors to the Point Pleasant Beach facility.
The aquarium staff announced yesterday that one of its most beloved penguins, an African penguin named Checkers, died due to kidney-related problems associated with old age.
Checkers is almost as old as the aquarium itself, which opened in late 1991. She was hatched at the aquarium on Feb. 18, 1995.
“As an amazing ambassador animal, she helped educate and raise awareness for African penguin conservation through our various education programs,” the aquarium staff said in an announcement. “She was the sweetest girl with the most endearing personality that stole the hearts of all who encountered her.”
The aquarium’s complement of African penguins is especially unique since they differ from their more famous cousins who occupy the South Pole. African penguins, also known as Cape Penguins, have distinctive pink patches of skin above their eyes and a black facial mask. An endangered species, African penguins can be found in the wild on just 24 islands between Namibia and Algoa Bay, near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Flightless, just like those in colder climates, African penguins have adapted to live in more temperate zones – they even have sweat glands above their eyes that cool the birds’ blood and as the temperature rises.
In 2010, the total African penguin population was estimated at 55,000, and may be extinct in the wild before the end of the decade. Breeding programs like those at Jenkinson’s are literally saving the species – and Checkers did her part.
“In her time her, she not only become a mother, but a grandmother and even great-grandmother,” the aquarium said. “She was a favorite among our animal care staff, who are mourning the loss of this special little lady. She will be truly missed by all.”