Penguins on Parade
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The Fargo Forum reported the progress of ten visiting penguins on this day in 1968. The penguins were flown eight thousand miles from their home in Antarctica in order to participate in a research experiment. Leading the project was Dr. Richard Penney of Rockefeller University in New York and the Institute of Animal Behavior of the New York Zoological Society. He hoped to gain insight into the birds’ sense of direction.
Similar experiments studying the penguins’ navigational instincts in the southern hemisphere had proven already that the penguins were able to use their biological clock and the angle of the sun to determine their position and find their way to the sea. In order to test for any variation in this phenomenon north of the equator, Dr. Penney flew ten of the birds to North Dakota. North Dakota was chosen for a variety of reasons, including its flat terrain, frigid winter temperatures, and because it was home to the Grand Forks Air Force Base.
One by one, the penguins were set loose in a plowed field near Grand Forks. Nearly all of the birds set off in a southwesterly direction, despite being released multiple times at different hours. Although it seemed that the birds were attempting to return home, Dr. Penney discovered that the birds were actually about thirty degrees off from their intended route. This was reasoned to be most likely caused by the change in hemisphere. The Forum labeled the flightless flock as “unappreciative visitors,” being as they were in such a hurry to return home. Moving between two and three miles an hour, however, an escape by the animals didn’t seem imminent.
The penguins remained in North Dakota for a little over a week before completing the navigational experiments. As much as it appeared that the group wished to waddle south, they were instead flown east to become the newest attractions at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. There, the birds joined another group of penguins taken to the zoo in 1965 to study similar orientation instincts under an artificial sun. The research project of 1968 was part of an ongoing ten-year study under Dr. Penney.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
The Sunday Forum. Sunday, Dec. 8, 1968: p.1, A-8.