New Birds on the Block

African Penguins

Training and Presentation

Aquatic Construction Challenge

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Camden’s Waterfront Renewal

This article by Phyllis B. Maguire was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on July 8, 1998. All rights reserved.

Trenton is discovering the goldmine of waterfront

development, taking cues from two of its southern neighbors. For much

of the past decade, Camden and Philadelphia have worked in tandem

to turn their burgeoning waterfront districts — joined by the

RiverLink Ferry and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge — into a major

destination and entertainment center. And while the city of Camden

continues to be financially troubled, spurring Governor Whitman’s

recent proposal to turn the city’s financial management over to the

state, ambitious plans for a glittering riverfront have been drawn.

The New Jersey State Aquarium — a graceful, V-shaped domed

building,

its rooftop pennants flying above a riverside promenade with a

remarkable

view of Philadelphia’s cityscape — is its seed presence and crown

jewel.

"The success of the Camden waterfront will reach out into the

city," says Aquarium president Michael Crowther. "We’re

building

a ladder of resources that will integrate the city and the river

district."

While Crowther concedes that hasn’t yet happened — the Aquarium

is the only daily institution in place, with the Blockbuster-Sony

Music E-Centre open only 40 nights a year — he is sure Camden’s

urban integration will be a success: "We need to build the

waterfront’s

critical mass — and we’re doing it."

Camden’s Aquarium and E-Centre complement Philadelphia’s Penn’s

Landing,

Independence Seaport Museum, the Philadelphia Marine Center, and a

growing nightclub and restaurant district. The combined waterfronts

now attract 3 million visitors a year. Within the next decade, they

are projected to draw an estimated 10 to 15 million annual visitors,

with plans for a tram to link the two sides of the river, and proposed

Camden waterfront construction of a minor league baseball franchise

and stadium, along with hotels, museums, and marinas. A six-acre

Children’s

Garden next to the Aquarium is scheduled to open in spring, 1999.

"We are adding to our menu of choices," says Kimberley

O’Neill,

the public relations manager. "The Children’s Garden will expand

our mission to support conservation efforts for plants and animals,

as well as for fish. It is all intertwined in one big cycle, and the

Camden waterfront, as far as the educational opportunities it will

offer, will reflect that."

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New Birds on the Block

Construction of the New Jersey State Aquarium began

in 1988. It is not a state institution, although the legislature

appropriated

$52 million for its construction; instead, it is operated by the New

Jersey Academy of Aquatic Sciences, a private, non-profit organization

that relies on earned income and private donations. The first fish

to be released into the 760,000-gallon Open Ocean Tank, one of the

largest in the country, were 30 cownose rays in December, 1991. The

first sharks took up residence in the same tank in February, 1992,

the same month as the Aquarium’s grand opening, and several new

exhibits

have debuted since then, part of an ongoing expansion program to

encourage

repeat visits. The Aquarium’s fish population now numbers 4,000, but

its newest tenants are a delightful colony of aquatic birds.

Fifteen African penguins, purchased from Colorado’s Pueblo Zoo,

Connecticut’s

Mystic Aquarium, and the Baltimore Zoo, are moving into a 6,000 square

foot exhibit called Inguza (an African word for "penguin")

Island, complete with a 17,000-gallon, 8-foot pool (see sidebar).

The birds are settling into their very public outdoor home after weeks

in high-flying, luxurious quarantine in the Bird Holding Area

penthouse.

Though Inguza Island, billed as New Jersey’s biggest birdbath, was

opened on the July Fourth weekend, its official opening bash —

Penguin Palooza — will be held Saturday, July 11, with arts and

crafts activities and trainers on hand to answer all your penguin

questions.

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African Penguins

And many queries will be engendered by this extremely engaging crew.

Indigenous to the temperate southern tip of Africa, the African

penguin

is also known as the blackfooted penguin and as the jackass penguin

for its characteristic braying. They have feathers, lay eggs, and

are warm-blooded though, like ostriches, they cannot fly — but

these birds sure can swim, clocking underwater speeds of up to 25

miles per hour. All penguins live in the southern hemisphere. Of 18

species, only two reside in Antarctica, while most live in tropical

or temperate parts of South America, New Zealand, and Australia.

Standing

two feet tall and weighing six pounds, African penguins can live 25

years in captivity and they mate for life, sharing childcare duties

of protecting their nest and feeding their young. With a very high

metabolism, they consume a quarter of their own body weight in food

every day — the equivalent of a 150-pound person polishing off

37 pounds of daily edibles. While their diet in the wild consists

of sardines and other small schooling fish, their menu at the Aquarium

features squid, trout, capelin, and herring.

African penguins are extremely sociable and curious, with a variety

of communicating behaviors. They build nests and engage in what is

called "ecstatic display," the flapping of wings or flippers

by males to attract mates (similar behavior may be observed among

humans in the nightclubs on the other side of the Delaware!). They

stare and bray at the human crowd lined up along the waist-high glass

wall, in an exhibit designed to bring people close to its gregarious

residents. "The railing is just a few feet away, and the penguins

seem ready to jump in your lap," says Robert Fournier, the

Aquarium’s

director of husbandry. "Other facilities set the birds much

farther

back or build higher walls. It’s part of a new ‘enrichment’ approach

taken by zoos and aquariums so that animals are not just being stared

at. Not only are exhibits designed to enhance the animals’ quality

of life, but people can get a much closer look at their habitat and

interactions."

And African penguins are threatened. Their numbers in the wild have

decreased 90 percent over the last 60 years, reducing the current

population to about 140,000. Particularly devastating have been

commercial

overfishing of their food supply, habitat destruction, and oil spills,

with the birds’ natural habitat a heavily-travelled shipping channel.

While penguins — like other aquatic birds — waterproof their

feathers with their own oil, that protection is rendered useless by

spilled crude, and penguins exposed to oil spills die of hypothermia.

Their natural predators include seals, sharks, and killer whales.

The ongoing decimation has made the African penguin one of 134 species

in the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s Species Survival

Program,

started in 1981 to cooperatively manage and promote the breeding of

captive populations. Ten different institutions participate throughout

North America, with the SSP matching pairs of genetically desireable

animals for breeding purposes. "One of the main goals of SSP is

to increase the birds’ numbers for other facilities," says

Fournier,

who points out that breeding season begins in September and that

several

pairs of penguins are showing an interest in each other. "It is

now illegal to take them out of the wild, so we want to make sure

the birds we breed for other institutions and for release into the

wild have the best possible genes."

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Training and Presentation

Aquarium trainers now work with the colony several hours a day,

preparing

for the kind of presentation spectators already enjoy at the penguins’

next-door neighbors: the eight harbor and grey seals on Seal Shores

which, along with Inguza Island, flank the Aquarium entrance. Both

the seals and the penguins have above- and below-ground viewing areas,

acrylic visions of fiendishly tempting pools on a hot day. Together

they comprise a playful introduction to what is found inside.

Interactivity is a part of each Aquarium exhibit, drawing in children

and adults alike. The entry rotunda is adorned by a massive seven-foot

high open jaw of a megalodon shark, extinct for 10,000 years, a

50-ton,

50-foot long nasty specimen whose teeth were found in several rivers

in South Carolina. It leads to the Shark Zone, where other shark jaws

— including that of carcharodon carchareas, or the great white

— are mounted in display cases around the Touch-a-Shark tank,

its rim crowded by children. Within this 2,500-gallon tank swim

several

full-grown, 3-foot long dogfish and epaulette sharks, as well as

stingrays

whose barbs have been clipped. Visitors are invited to run their

fingers

along the rippling, velvet-like backs of the fish as they swim past.

A wooden mock-up of a great white comes complete with windows to open

and buttons to push, providing a fascinating lesson in shark anatomy:

a nictitating membrane, or third eyelid, keeps the shark’s eye closed

and protected while it’s attacking, and its electroreception system

can detect the electricity given off by other organisms. It can hear

prey a half-mile away, smell it a mile away, and swim 43 miles per

hour. Facts mounted on an exhibit wall mention that the shark’s

prodigious

immune system may hold the key to future human medical breakthroughs

and offer this sobering statistic: while sharks kill 10 people a year

among 50 to 70 reported attacks, humans annually kill 100 million

sharks.

"`Jaws’ was the worst thing that every happened to the shark

population,"

Fournier explains. "It became popular to kill them. They’re now

killed for sport and for sharkfin soup that uses two percent of the

shark’s body for food."

There is a panel of New Jersey Treasures, several local aquatic

habitats

including one from the Pine Barrens, its streams stained brown by

cedar tree tannins and the iron in the soil. The Caribbean Outpost

is stocked with vividly colored fish from many different tropical

habitats and types of reefs. There are fish that make their home among

a simulated shipwreck to sargassum fish moving among fronds, ghostly

ethereal moon jellyfish and vibrant indigo hamlets, menacing-looking

moray eels lurking in small, constructed caves, and a dozen seahorses

cavorting behind a bubble dome.

The Caribbean Outpost wraps around the main exhibit, Ocean Base

Atlantic,

with its Open Ocean Tank, a magnificent display of 1,400 fish. All

are found off the New Jersey coast, including two dozen sand tiger

and brown sharks (they are fed on Tuesdays and Thursdays), loggerhead

turtles, roughhead stingrays, striped bass, and schools of iridescent

herring which break up when the sharks approach, particularly one

imposing 400-pound sand tiger specimen. There are several different

views of the Tank, including a 24-foot high one in the Deep Atlantic

amphitheatre where "Tank Talk!" programs are held twice a

day. For those craving a more immediate Deep Atlantic adventure —

and who have diving certification — the Tank is open for divers

the first and third Saturdays.

Upstairs in the auditorium is the "Wingin’ It!" bird show

through Labor Day, and it is worth a visit. Turkey vultures, redtailed

hawks, augur buzzards, and snowy owls swoop over the audience, flying

between strategically placed posts during an informative and very

entertaining presentation. The "WOW, Weird? Or Wonderful?"

exhibit is an oddball showcase for some of the world’s most unusual

aquatic creatures. There are the four-eyed fish, with eyes above and

below the water; the archerfish that shoots its prey with rapid-fire

bullets of seawater; the horned cowfish, with an armor body suit;

the poison dart frog, whose toxins tip poison darts, and the veiled

and panther chameleons, camouflage artists that not only change colors

but are shaped like leaves to further thwart enemies — 30

different

species, with more than 400 creatures in 20 different tanks.

There is a Cyberfin virtual dive among dolphins and a Jewels of the

Rainforest exhibit that includes a deadly goliath birdeater spider.

A Water Colors exhibit demonstrates how color affects creatures’

camouflage

and communication, as well as a Water Babies aquatic nursery display.

Each exhibit features touchscreens and games, while for the very

young,

there is the Kids’ Reef of children’s activities and S.E.A. TV with

the "Eel Sullivan Puppet Show!"

The Aquarium has a thriving facility rentals program for corporate

and family events, and beginning July 21, the 72-foot schooner, the

Jolly II Rover, owned by the non-profit Philadelphia City Sail, will

be docked outside the Aquarium for two-hour participatory tours. While

the schooner moves out onto the Delaware, visitors will rotate among

various stations, learning about the river ecosystem and how to

navigate

the ship. It will bring even larger and newer audiences to the New

Jersey side of the river, as the Aquarium continues to aggressively

market itself within the tri-state area.

"We bill the Aquarium as a great family day out," says public

relations manager O’Neill, "and we specifically market to kids

because of the `nag factor’ — children nagging their parents to

come." That factor will definitely intensify with the Aquarium’s

new Inguza Island commercial, a music video for a song entitled `Can

You Walk Like A Penguin?’ being aired on Fox and Nickelodeon. The

penguins lend themselves beautifully to MTV treatment, as the Aquarium

commits itself to navigating the next phase of waterfront development.

— Phyllis B. Maguire

New Jersey State Aquarium, Camden, 609-365-3300 or

800-616-JAWS.

Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. through September 15. For

information

call or visit www.njaquarium.org. Tickets for adults and young

people age 12 and over cost $10.95; and $7.95 for children 3 to 11.

The Wingin’ It! Bird Show is $2 additional; the Cyperfin Virtual

Dolphin

Dive runs continuously, $5.

Call 215-925-LINK for prices and times of the ferry from Penn’s

Landing.

A RiverPass can be purchased at the Aquarium and at the Seaport Museum

that includes admission to both and a RiverLink ride. For those

interested

in Open Ocean Tank diving, the cost is $100. Call 609-365-3000,

extension

302, for more information.

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Aquatic Construction Challenge

Inguza" may be Xhosan for "penguin," but

for Mark Skevington, vice president of construction management for

Joseph Jingoli and Sons, it might as well be an African expression

for "a really big challenge." That’s what Inguza Island at

the New Jersey State Aquarium proved to be for the Lawrenceville

contractors

who constructed it.

"Ten weeks ago, Inguza Island was a plot of grass at a different

elevation covered with pines," says Skevington. "Now there’s

a building housing 15 penguins and a 17,000-gallon, 8-foot deep pool,

with pumps, filters, and acrylic panels — all done in 10 weeks.

That was the challenge on this job."

A novel one, to say the least. The 80-year-old, fourth-generation

firm on Princeton Pike employs over 100 people, with contracting work

throughout Pennsylvania and New York as well as New Jersey. "We’ve

done all types of construction, from schools to office buildings to

treatment plants," Skevington says. "But this was our first

exhibit. It was the same as any other project as far as building

materials,

vendors, and deadlines were concerned, but other projects get utilized

by people, not birds. This needed to be not only functional, but very

pleasing esthetically. Thousands of people are going to walk past

it every day, so real attention had to be paid to detail and

nuance."

The exhibit was designed by the internationally famous Philadelphia

firm of Venturi, Scott and Brown, and administrated by the Cooper’s

Ferry Development Association. Funding of $900,000 came from the

Delaware

River Port Authority. When Jingoli and Sons was hired in February,

construction was slated to begin in March.

"After getting documentation and permits, we couldn’t start until

mid-April," Skevington recalls. "And while the exhibit was

to open July 4th originally, the Aquarium decided to hold a Black

and White Ball for the press and for donors the week before

opening."

Skevington and his crew of 25, along with a contingent of

subcontractors,

had to contend not only with a foreshortened schedule, but the

meticulous

demands of esthetically duplicating a natural habitat.

"We had to sculpt the pool area step by step, working with the

Aquarium staff to craft different variations in water depth,"

he says. "We went through a whole series of different stains until

we got the precise effect. The concrete `beach’ had to be rocky; if

it was too smooth, it could cause infections in the birds’ feet. And

perches had to be placed so the birds could not only get out of the

water, but also to balance out the look of the entire exhibit."

The Jingoli staff worked weekends and evenings, as well as days, until

Skevington could change his hardhat for a tuxedo and attend the Black

and White Ball. "I took my superintendent — who might as well

have kept a cot there during construction," he says. "It was

the first time we could look down from an upper terrace and take a

deep breath. The people there clearly enjoyed how well the exhibit

had turned out, and we both said, `Wow! This really looks nice!’"

— Phyllis B. Maguire


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