Seabirds are coming to Georgia Aquarium. The new exhibit will be located in Cold Water Quest gallery, neighboring fellow cold-water inhabitants – the Southern sea otters. Four different species of seabirds, commonly found in the North Pacific, will be featured in the gallery, including: horned puffins, tufted puffins, common murres, and pigeon guillemots.
The exhibit is designed to closely resemble the natural habitats of these species, including rockwork that is similar to their native cliff-side dwellings and containing more than 11,000 gallons of water. Not only will the rockwork be featured in the exhibit, but it will also spill to the outside of the exhibit as well. Guests will have the opportunity to see how some of these seabird species dive underwater thanks to the tall acrylic windows.
Georgia Aquarium and the Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC), located in Seward, Alaska, have partnered to help bring our feathered friends to Atlanta. The new habitat construction is underway, and these arctic and sub-arctic seabirds are being cared for by staff members in behind the scenes areas of the Aquarium. While some of the seabirds have already arrived, ASLC staff are caring for additional adult seabirds and pufflings, or baby puffins, that have recently hatched. Both will make their way to Georgia Aquarium prior to the exhibit’s opening.
Georgia Aquarium is also partnering with other aquariums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) for these seabirds. The SSP oversees the population management of select species at AZA institutions and works to enhance the conservation of these species.
You may be wondering, “what’s so cool about these seabirds?” The answer – everything! While these seabirds may look similar to penguins, they’re actually not related at all. The four new species at Georgia Aquarium are members of the Alcid family, also known as auks, and spend much of their time on the open ocean. If you take a closer look at the body shape of these auks, you may notice their long bodies, short tails, small wings, and short legs – making them excellent swimmers and divers. However, these traits also make them incredibly clumsy on land!
Let’s look at each of our new species individually to learn how to identify them:
It’s a puffin-palooza! Georgia Aquarium will have not one, but two species of puffins – horned and tufted. Both puffins have similar coloration with black backs, white faces with large orange bills, and orange legs and feet. However, they can be easily distinguished! Tufted puffins have two long yellow tufts of feathers that start above and behind the eye, while horned puffins lack this feature. Horned puffins have white bellies, while tufted puffins are all black.
There’s nothing common about this murre. This auk species has the ability to dive underwater in pursuit of prey! As one of the largest members of the Alcid family, this bird is long, dark, and slender with a pointed bill and grey to black feet and legs. They also have a prominent white stomach.
Similar to the common murre, this species is also known for its incredible diving abilities! However, the pigeon guillemot is unique in that it uses its feet for propulsion when swimming, unlike most auks that use their wings to “fly” underwater. This species is dark in color, but is recognizable by the white patches on its wings and its vibrantly colored red legs and webbed feet!