San Francisco’s Pierre The Wetsuit-Wearing Penguin Dies Aged 33 [Video]

Pierre the African penguin is well known in San Francisco. Not only did he live to the age of 33, but he also had his own Wikipedia page and a children’s book about his life. The spunky penguin also wore a wetsuit for a while after losing his feathers in a molt and failing to regain them.

According to officials at the California Academy of Sciences, Pierre passed away three weeks ago from kidney failure due to old age, but he lived an incredibly long life for his species.

According to Vikki McCloskey, Assistant Aquarium Curator at the California Academy of Sciences, they consider Pierre to be one of their most distinguished penguins. McCloskey, who worked closely with Pierre, says his species typically only lives to 15 or 20 years in the wild, but even in captivity, 33 is a very long time to live.

As reported by the LA Times, McCloskey said that biologists noticed only a day or two before he died that the African penguin wasn’t quite his normal spunky self. She said you could just tell he wasn’t feeling quite right. Reportedly, veterinarians at the San Francisco academy did their best for him, but he passed away the next day.

Pierre has quite a history. He was reportedly hatched on February 16, 1983 at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, where he was raised by his parents until he was a juvenile. He was then moved to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco in June 1983 along with 15 other penguins.

Things were fine until 2007, when Pierre molted, as penguins do every year. However, he showed signs of balding and according to academy officials, he failed to grow his feathers back.

Veterinarians ran tests and tried therapies, but nothing helped and he still failed to grow his feathers back. Without those feathers, the penguin had a problem, as he was no longer waterproof. This meant he had trouble keeping warm and, as he was different, the other penguins at the academy started picking on him.

It was then that the neoprene wetsuit came into play after biologists designed one for him. According to McCloskey, neoprene makes you waterproof, and in Pierre’s case, it also kept him warm.

Apparently, experts had to experiment with various different colors of neoprene before finally settling on black. Once he was wearing the wetsuit, his fellow penguins finally accepted him again.

Reportedly, the neoprene wetsuit did the trick, as it allowed him to use his energy to grow his feathers back. Reportedly, it took only six weeks to see improvement as he gained weight and the feathers started growing back in.

Soon after this, Pierre caught the attention of an author, Jean Marzollo, who published a children’s book in 2010 titled Pierre the Penguin: A True Story. Reportedly, the book was published by Sleeping Bear Press and Laura Regan did the illustrations.

Around the same time, the famous and spunky Pierre was probably the only African penguin to achieve his own Wikipedia page.

Reportedly, Pierre had quite a distinct character and McCloskey said he was Mr. Personality right up to the end. She said he walked around his home like he owned the joint and didn’t put up with any nonsense from the young penguins. In fact, McCloskey says she used to joke that they all worked for Pierre, but she did say more seriously that Pierre lived a full life right up to the end.

As reported by the SF Examiner, the main reason for the penguins living at the California Academy of Sciences is that African penguins were added to the endangered species list in 2010. Reportedly, penguins at the academy are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, working to maintain the genetic diversity of captive species.

Part of the survival plan is a breeding program, which transfers penguins between aquariums to ensure they breed with others least like them to help the species survive.

According to McCloskey, Pierre definitely did his bit for his species, as he was the father of 16 chicks, 27 grand chicks, and 11 great grand chicks at the current date.

RIP to a great and spunky African penguin. Readers can meet Pierre in the video included below.

[Photo via Flickr by bettinche, cropped and resized/CC BY-NC 2.0]