Penguins are cute!
There is no doubt about it. I know this because I am standing at the edge of a glass fronted tank containing a score of these wibbly-wobbly creatures and watching them wibble-wobble from one fake shit covered rock onto another fake shit covered rock. The fact that there seems to be a rather large amount of excrement and an accompanying acrid aroma of amonia wafting in the air does absolutely nothing to dampen the ardour of the group of junior high school girls I am accompanying on this trip.
“Kawaiiiiii! Mecha kawaiiiiiiii!” they say in unison. Oddly enough, in their blue and white sailor style uniforms they do somewhat resemble the wibbly-wobblers in front of them.
I look around to see if there are any other instances of nature reflecting self, and after a short moment I perceive a grumpy looking tufted penguin standing off by itself, back turned to the squealing adoring schoolgirls. It is called a Rock Hopper apparently, and its tufted hairdo, hunched shoulders and downturned beak all lend it the air of a tired and grumpy English teacher.
I decide to check with the front office to see if the tufted Rock Hopper is up for adoption. I am impressed and want to take him home. At this stage I haven’t considered the amount of trouble that would ensue through having an essentially wild animal sharing my 40sqm space with the wife, the cat, the hamster and me, but I’m sure that it is nothing that can’t be overcome. I remain optimistic until the Rock Hopper being considered for re-homing raises its beak, squawks loudly and releases a stream of foul smelling excrement into the the pool below. Disappointed, I watch the cloud of ammonia meld itself with water and understand why the water is milky white at the same time. I believe it is an epiphany of sorts, but without the religious element.
Instantly, the crowd of adoring sailor suited junior high girls squeal in disgust.
“Eeeeeeh! Yaaaaddaa! Kusssaiiii!!”
And almost equally as quick, I am reminded of the fickle nature of these girls. The “on/off” buttons are actually the same, with one function only being activated at a time- either fully “on” or completely “off.” I also happen to know that they have the collective attention span of a goldfish, so to draw their attention away from the pooping bird, I point out a distant structure silhouetted on the horizon, and barely visible through the slight smog that hangs over Tokyo in perpetuity.
“Look, there’s Disney Castle!” I shout, with what I hope is enthusiasm, however it comes out more as a gargled screech that reveals my true feelings regarding anything Disney. It seems to work though, as the girls, as one, turn their heads in the direction I am pointing squealing in delight. Smartphones and peace signs are produced, group selfies are taken.. and disaster is avoided.
This particular sea- side aquarium located on reclaimed land just next to acres of imported Americana, is particularly famous for having successfully entanked a school of tuna. A difficult and challenging feat as tuna swim fast and over vast distances. How then to keep them in a tank? The answer lies in the screen of air bubbles that rises up next to the glass of the centralised circular tank. The tuna are scared away from the rising bubbles and are guided around the tank in a never ending circular track that mimics the distances they would swim in the wild. Pure genius. The irony of watching these silver torpedoes swim in school formation whilst on a school trip is not lost on me. It could lead to deeper philosphical introspection, however, my students are more interested in the contents of the aquarium shop that sells, among other equally useful items, fluffy mini penguins that can be dangled from their backpacks. I guffaw at their shallow values, and smirk at their need to appear unendlessly cute, however I do buy a fluffy dangler to add to my collection of dangling items for no other reason than being shallow and valueless myself.
Are there more distractions here? Have we seen the octopi? The deep sea crabs? The swarm of jellyfish? Have we touched the rough sandpaper like skin of the shark? Have we noted how the coral seems to sway in the artificial current?
We move en masse to the next exhibit, which has less poop, but an equally cute array of puffins that seem to regard our intrusion with disdain. They remind me of a group of pompous British gentlemen gathered at club attired in smoking jackets and cigars in hand.
“Waduyuwant?” One of them telepathically beams at me, “Cant you see there’s a game on?”
I look around for any signs of a game and notice nothing of importance.
“What game?” I beam back.
“Oh f’godsakes!” the besuited puffin beams back. “Get a life will ya!”
…. rude little bird.
I beam back an image of a chicken carcass slowly turning on a rotisserie spit and stifle a laugh as the rude little bird hops uncomfortably from one foot to another. Got ‘im!
At least the penguins had good manners.
Speaking of penguins, or actually going back to their undoubted anthropomorphic like-ability, there exists in New Zealand South Island a colony of Fairy Blue Penguins. Cute as can be. So much so that the nesting site has become a tourist attraction. It can be found in the once prosperous town of Oamaru, which straddles the main route heading towards Invercargill. A slight diversion to the dockland area brings you to the nesting site the popularity of which is highlighted by road signs indicating that traffic should slow down and drivers be on the alert for any fairy blues attempting to cross the street.
The department of conservation has erected a set of bleachers and a viewing platform to give the humanoids a better view of the daily event which occurs at sunset. When the idea of this particular tourist trap was first mooted, the bleachers were a rickety affair that seemed to have been dragged over from the local rugby ground and unceremoniously dumped at water’s edge. Gradually, over time, various improvements occurred until the latest structure appeared sporting such design elements such as directive lighting, mood music, knick-knack shop and a ticket selling office. There is money to be made from penguins after all! Rather than just standing about without much idea or clue, proceedings have also been allocated their own Emcee who will alert the gathered audience to the penguin’s diminutive frames as they bob up and down in the surf before invading the beach like a D-Day landing. Odd how it happens with such regularity.
At an agreed upon signal from the most experienced (or foolhardy) bird, the fairies body surf the last few metres to the shore and then head at top speed for the shelter of their nests, roughly another ten metres from the water’s edge. No doubt if my Japanese students were in attendance they would utter squeals of delight, a few “kawaiiiis!” and be dancing with the excitement of it all. Notwithstanding their absence, the spectacle of the mini flippered wibbly wobblers, wibbly wobbling their way to their evening homes is an endearing one and well worth the trip for the gathered folk.
Once the fairies reach the safety of the tall grasses, they suddenly change their mad dash to a casual stroll. A certain laissez-faire attitude pervades and the feeling of peace after danger overcome is palbable. Urgent squawks, are replaced by happy chirps and contented squeaks. Some even stop for a well earned spot of preening. Rather odd. Rather odd, until the Emcee informs us that the danger the fairies are collectively warding against is the evil in the skies above in the form of the marauding sea eagle that adopts stuka style tactics and dive bombs and straffes the penguins landing below. A nightly festival of blood n guts!
Brave little penguins!
The gathered crowd swells with pride at the knowledge of this daily trial so stoically met. They cast their eyes skyward, scanning the grey clouds for the enemy, no doubt preparing themselves to step in as allies in the battle of the beach. However, the news that the marauding Sea Eagle is long since extinct but that the group protective behaviours remain turns the pride to disbelief.
But consider this… perhaps the white froth of the surf and waves is not due to the usual compostion of sea water mixed with air, but “other” materials expelled from the bodies of the assembled fairies in the group angst before the beach assault. Consider also that as a popular surfing beach, some protective cream to guard against the corrosive qualities of guano on sensitive skin may be a sensible investment.