Tenn. (March 31, 2009) – For some
reason, there has been a recent rash
of people asking about the little boy
who kidnapped or stole one of the Tennessee
Aquarium’s penguins. This may
be one of the most interesting myths
of our time according to Amy Graves,
the Aquarium’s senior aviculturist.
“The tale is not true of course,
whether it's one of our penguins or
a bird from some other zoo or aquarium,”
said Graves. “Friends of mine
at the Knoxville Zoo say they get asked
about one of their African penguins
being stolen too.” There seems
to be an ebb and flow to this rumor
as it washes across the country through
e-mails and blogs. This story has traveled
around the globe in enough waves to
gain official status as an “urban
story goes something like this: A small
boy gets separated from his parents
at the Tennessee Aquarium. While he
is exploring on his own, he manages
to sneak a baby penguin into his backpack.
The child is reunited with his parents
who are so relieved the child is safe
that they don’t notice the abducted
penguin in his backpack. Later after
they arrive home, the parents are shocked
to find the boy playing with the baby
penguin in the bathtub.
to Snopes.com, this myth might have
originated in 1993 as one of the first
viral e-mails passed from person to
person. The zoo or aquarium changes
from time to time, but the basic story
remains the same. This website also
cites the 2002 children's book, “Tina
and the Penguin,” by Heather Dyer
as a possible cause for re-igniting
these false stories. http://www.snopes.com/critters/farce/smuggled.asp
Calhoon, the Tennessee Aquarium’s
assistant curator of forests, says this
urban legend has problems from the start.
“First of all, not many people
at the Aquarium have keys to our penguin
exhibit,” said Calhoon. “So
access is very restricted. But even
if someone could get into Penguins’
Rock, our birds are used to certain
people. If anyone else goes in there,
the birds dive into the water.”
Calhoon also punches holes in this story
with the following points:
Penguins look cuddly, but they can be
rather feisty. If you're ever at the
Tennessee Aquarium when it's time for
our birds to be examined, you'll see
that it's challenging for trained keepers
to catch a bird. They'll waddle quickly
off or simply peck and flap like crazy.
Some of the Aquarium’s penguins
weigh up to twenty pounds and the larger
the bird, the harder they are to handle.
Penguins have powerful flippers. Our
keepers know how to safely subdue a
bird when it's necessary to handle them.
But even the Aquarium’s trained
staff members respect the strong slap
that can be delivered by a flipper.
A penguin would continue to flap, squawk
and wiggle around if it was in a backpack.
And that would draw everyone's attention.
We have not had baby penguins at the
Tennessee Aquarium yet. But the “Magic
Rocks” used for nesting materials
will be given to the gentoo and macaroni
penguins on April 1st. Aviculturists
at the Aquarium are hoping that providing
these rocks will trigger courtship and
help lay this urban legend to rest,
two communications students from the
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
have produced a penguin caper video
recreating this urban legend. “It
was fun working with the Aquarium and
learning about the penguins,”
said Bill Puckett, a UTC junior. “I
learned a lot about the penguins,”
said fellow UTC junior, Brooke Fontana.
“Especially how difficult it would
be to even touch a penguin without them
video can be seen on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6gAJD5DLWM
Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural
world. Admission is $21.95 per adult and $14.95 per child, ages 3-12.
Each ticket purchased helps support Aquarium conservation programs. The
IMAX® 3D Theater is next door to the Aquarium. Ticket prices
$8.50 per adult and $6.00 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are
$27.95 for adults and $19.95 for children. Excursions aboard the new
River Gorge Explorer depart daily into “Tennessee’s
Canyon.” Cruise tickets are $29.00 per adult and $21.50 per
(3-12). Advance tickets may be purchased online at www.tnaqua.org or by
phone at 1-800-262-0695. The Aquarium, located on the banks of the
Tennessee River in Chattanooga, is a non-profit organization. Open
every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Aquarium and IMAX are
accessible to people with disabilities.