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Penguin exhibit delayed until March

SANDY — The Living Planet Aquarium has delayed the opening of its penguin exhibit until late March.

The delay is being blamed on the penguins' switch to new "formal wear."

Most penguin species go through one complete molt to shed their feathers each year, usually after the breeding season. According to Angie Hyde, Living Planet spokeswoman, it only recently became clear that the penguins destined for Utah were getting ready to molt.

"It typically occurs after the breeding season, but there is no way to determine exactly how soon after it will happen," Hyde said. "Timing can depend on the amount of sunlight they receive, temperature fluctuations and the amount of activity they receive."

Molting is an essential function, as feathers wear out during the year. Feathers become worn when penguins rub against each other, come in contact with the ground and water, and regularly preen their feathers.

Depending on the species, the average length of the molt varies from 13 days to 34 days.

The Living Planet Aquarium, at 725 E. 10600 South, will be receiving 11 penguins for the new exhibit, and three of them are chicks that hatched in late 2009. Two are adults, a breeding pair more than 4 years old, and the remaining six are 1 year old.

All of the birds are currently preparing to molt. Molts are very stressful because the birds are using their energy stores to build new feathers, leaving little energy to fight disease. Penguins are very susceptible to fungus in the lungs and easily can develop pneumonia, a serious and life-threatening problem in penguins.

The penguins will be arriving from Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas. Long-distance transport can be an extra-stressful time during molting, as well, so transportation has been postponed until they have completed the molting process.

"Once the molt begins, it will take anywhere from two to three weeks to complete," said Andy Allison, Living Planet's curator of animals.

Aquarium officials had planned for the penguins to arrive Wednesday, allowing the exhibit to open in early March. Following the delay, they'll most likely arrive in late February, pushing back the exhibit's opening by a few weeks.

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