What We Can Learn From Penguins
What We Can Learn from Penguins – California Academy of Sciences Field Trip

As the first blogger of the semester, I feel as if I have some sort of responsibility to provide everyone reading this with a summary of this year so far, before proceeding to the real juice of my blog. Well, after coming back from a well-deserved yet way-too-short Winter Break, most students (including me) were hit hard with a massive collection of assignments, concerns, and decisions, and we had to once again put our future-hats on as everything we do seems to just be some sort of preparation for a big event to come. In engineering class we have been focusing on building a fence around our garden with the help of Clough Construction. We started by doing outdoor construction using redwood lumber and concrete, and now we have moved inside to work on Autodesk Inventor to build a model of the gate we want on the fence. Although we are all a little bit slow at Inventor, I would say that we’re definitely getting the hang of it. (P.S. this is the end of my summary).

One of the highlights of this year so far was the field trip we all took to the California Academy of Sciences on Friday, the 24th of January. When we arrived we all got a tour of the building, and a worker told us about the history of the Academy of Sciences, and how they’ve learned from it. I thought it was very interesting that the Academy had been destroyed twice by big San Francisco Earthquakes – yet they still chose to try again. If another earthquake hits, I might be slightly suspicious that maybe Mother Nature is trying to send them a message of sorts that she doesn’t exactly like being exposed. But until then, I think it’s safe to say that we all thoroughly enjoyed our exposure to nature and organisms from many different climates and tropics. After the talk, we climbed upstairs to the roof. Unfortunately, it was not the Teletubbies’ homeland, as I had initially thought, but it was (almost) just as cool. They had a living roof up there with many different native plants to help insulate the building and keep it more environmental. After seeing the roof we went to the glass-enclosed rainforest. Inside we explored about three countries, and saw a bunch of different animals that live in that country while on that floor. It was all really interesting, once I got past the enormous amounts of butterflies and the humidity. After this we went down to the aquarium, which was filled with an assortment of different fish and underwater species, including some scuba divers. Or snorkelers. I honestly don’t know the difference…

We also had the opportunity to go to the planetarium, which was so amazing and really interesting! The dark lights and comfy seats may have sent some nodding off, but everyone at least wanted to enjoy the movie.

After that we got some time to do whatever we wanted. It was during this time that I ventured off into the African Animals Exhibit and was met with a calling that made me refocus my vision of the future. I now know that I have to be a penguin whisperer. The Academy of Sciences keeps African penguins inside (and outside, well in a closed environment, but it’s mostly outside, but you can see it from inside) the museum. These adorable, little, dressed-up waddlers were the cutest birds I’ve ever seen. So when I returned from the field trip, I decided to look into them a little bit (as, of course, I will one day be a penguin whisperer so it’s good to know these things in advance). Here is some information about the penguins at the Academy:

  • The penguins are African Penguins, but don’t worry, the environment that the Acadmeny of Sciences has set up for them mimics their natural one on the coasts of South Africa very closely. The climate controls are set so that it is just like the South African climate, and the environment in which they live has natural features that are similar to landmasses and water that one would come across in the penguins’ natural habitat.

  • African penguins have a definite social ladder within their colonies. The leaders are usually older and will actually pick on the inferior heavily, especially if they feel challenged by them…sounds a little like high school. But not MSEL of course.

  • There is actually a live penguin feed on the California Academy of Sciences website where you can literally watch them nonstop. I haven’t closed it since opening it last night to be perfectly honest, so I’m aware of every little movement.

  • The most heartbreaking thing I saw was that the population of African penguins is actually declining, and the species was declared an endangered species in 2010. The most probable reason for this is fisheries, since so many fish are taken away from the penguins that they are left with little to survive on. Another reason is the changing ocean levels and currents that make the fish population move around, causing the penguins to have a tough time trying to find a meal. In addition, the area in which they live has been exposed to a few oil spills and other man-made technology. They have some support from major organizations though, and the Academy of Science’s colony helps provide a back-up and a source of genetic diversity for the species.


The African Penguin has five major behaviors that, according to the California Academy of Science’s website, are easy to spot by any observer that visits. While reading about each one, I realized how much they correlate to real life, and what we do in MSEL and as students. So here is a list of four of them and what we can learn based on penguin behavior:


  • Head-Shaking and Bowing:

    • Penguins exhibit this kind of behavior when they are mating or beginning to date another penguin. Sometimes these relationships last their whole life, so this is kind of a big deal as a first step. As the relationship proceeds, though, the penguins will make sure to head-shake or bow at each other again, just as a reminder and a signal of their still-strong feelings.

    • Well, MSEL students certainly have a lot of strong feelings. But besides that, MSEL is based on a structure of support and comfort. We really do look out for one another, similar to penguin couples, except we are a big group. It’s always important for us to remember to restate our availability and love for other students, and to make sure that we know we are all looking out for each other.


  • Molting:

    • Penguins are known for living in cold climates, and the reason why they work there is because of the handy insulation system their feathers provide. About once a year, though, those feathers will start to shred and new ones will begin to push through and grow beneath. For a few weeks this penguin will look a bit bizarre and uneven, but then the new feathers begin to settle in.

    • MSEL project weeks are insanely stressful, and one of the worst things is dealing with change. Whether it’s change that we can control or change that we can’t, change can be unpredictable and untimely. We can learn from penguins that change is important and necessary to build the project. This can also apply for us as leaders and students. We cannot be afraid of change or new feathers, a new approach or a new perspective, even though our feathers might be disheveled for a few weeks at first. In the end, change is needed, so embrace it.


  • Preening:

    • Penguins have to stay warm, and in order to do this they have to always make sure their feathers are waterproof and clean. At the bottom of the penguins tail there is an oil gland and they jab with their beaks at it which transfers the oil to their beak. From there, they spread it around the rest of their body to ensure oily, clean, waterproof, perfection in their feathers.

    • As MSELers we are going to feel a little bit oil-deprived at points, but we have to remember that becoming clean, smooth, oily, and waterproof again is within our reach! Penguins just have to bend over to their tail to reach their own oil source. Leaders need to remember that they have access to their own supply of, maybe not oil, but confidence or intelligence or inspiration. Don’t forget that inspiration is not as far as it may seem. It may sound cheesy, but it’s within yourself that you find motivation and inspiration most of the time, so just look a little harder.


  • Ecstatic Display

    • African Penguins are LOUD. Every so often a penguin with stand with their feet apart, head raised, and beaks upwards, and let out a very loud sound of braying. This mostly happens when one penguin is in another’s area. Each penguin’s bray is different, so a penguin can identify another penguin just from it’s loud screech!

    • Again, MSELers are loud. But hey, sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Leaders need to make sure that they are clear about what they want and what they are looking to achieve, or else messages can get mixed up. Sometimes it’s alright to screech. In addition, it’s important to remember that, like every penguin having a different bray, every person has a different purpose or message they want to share. Often people assume that everyone in MSEL wants the same thing, but really we are all so individualistic and unique. Each one of us has a different message to share in our screech. We have to be open to everyone’s screech, inside of MSEL and out, and be prepared to listen to what each one has to say before assuming what will be said.

So there you go. Penguins can teach us a lot about being a leader. That’s my biomimicry-based conclusion of this blog! I’m sure every animal can teach us something (except horses), but penguins just happen to be the best.


Links to look at after reading this blog:

  • [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ichQOqbewA[/youtube]

The Teletubbies theme song. Fun fact: when I was little, I got asked if I was the baby in the sun frequently. Apparently I looked just like her.


The penguin livecams on the California Academy of Science’s website.


  1. Sophi, I loved your blog! I love how you organized it and compared MSEL’ers to penguins. I especially liked how you described penguin behavior in great detail, which took lots of research! I praise your dedication, observations and detailing of our field trip. I must say you made us sound interesting, creative, fun and adventureative. Good work!

  2. Sophi!!!! I highly enjoyed reading this blog and the hard work you put into this piece of writing . I highly liked when you explained the field trip and how it impacted many especially after coming back from break and building a fence and the different transitions we faced in engineering! really good work

  3. I really appreciated your humor throughout the blog; it kept me really interested and wanting to read more! I also thought it was really great how you had a little summary of the class/what we have been up to, because not everyone really knows what goes on inside the msel classrooms. As a former penguin fanatic, I applaud you for sharing this heartbreaking yet fascinating information about African Penguins. The Teletubbies video at the end was also oddly entertaining and will probably give me nightmares tonight.. but overall, excellent work!

  4. Fantastic blog Sophie. I thought you really had a lot of personality and humor shine through in your writing and the allusions between the MSEL class and the penguins were very creative. Seriously those allusions were bloody fantastic so good job by you. Our trip to the Academy of Sciences was a great experience and I think you really captured that extremely well. 😀

  5. Sophi! I loved your blog! I liked how you put information about the penguins and connected it to us. I also liked how you put some humor into it. It made it fun to read! Keep doing what you’re doing gurl!

  6. Wow, Sophi I’m so glad you started our blogs off this semester! I loved reading and learning new things about the penguins, and I liked that you compared the penguins to us! I truly believe you should pursue becoming a penguin whisperer. Your blog was so funny and well thought out, great job!

  7. Sophi, this was such a great blog I loved reading it. It was both informational and fun to read. I agree one of the highlights of this year was the field trip to the Academy of Sciences. I liked all the interesting facts about the penguins and I loved the Teletubbie video you put at the end!

  8. Sophi! Your blog is A-MAZ-ING!! I love how you connected the penguins with MSEL. It was a very informational blog and I enjoyed your bits of humor, especially the joke about horses at the end. Fantastic work! 🙂

  9. Sophi you are wonderful!! I loved that you used biomimicry! Good for you. 🙂 This is well-written, and I am inspired to share it with family and friends! Also, I am sure even horses have something to teach us 🙂

  10. Wow Sophi, that was really cool! Not only did you summarize our field trip, but you managed to incorporate how us MSELers really are. People usually see us from the outside, but they don’t usually see how bonded we are or how we are all ourselves around each other. That was creative, funny, and sweet. Awesome job!

  11. This a an amazing way to start off the new semester! your connections between the penguins and ourselves and how we work in similar ways like the penguins is a great connects and really makes this blog a fun read! I thought you did a good summary of all the places we stopped by at the Academy hit all the points and I hope you become a penguin whisperer!

  12. Sophi, this was such an amazing blog jam-packed with interesting information! The penguin exhibit at the end of the Africa hall was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to the Academy of Sciences, especially when one swam right in front of me behind the glass (perhaps I have potential as a penguin whisperer trainee!) I can’t wait to go there again.

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