"Hey! One-Eyed Pete! Stop, where are you going? Wait up!”
“Hey what are you bringing to Martin’s corner on Friday? I’m thinking just Doritos? Is that enough? And how are you getting there, want to swim over togeth— Oh wait, oh. Sorry, you’re not One-Eyed Pete. You just… look like him, I guess. My mistake, welcome to the tank. Don’t tell Martin I told you about his party, unless of course you’re invited, in which case it’s fine... ugh, bye.”
"Man, One-Eyed Pete, there’s something different about you today. But, I don't know, I just can’t put my finger on it...”
“Oh really? I have no idea what you mean."
“Is it... did you have your scales buffed or something? You been swimming laps? Cause I’ll be honest, last time I saw you, you looked like you’d been living in a paper bag for six months. On land. And the bag’s all scrunched up and humans are kicking it around cause no one wants to pick it up and put it in the bin, you know? Maybe a homeless dog chewed on it a bit and then it got stuck behind those teeth right up the back so then all this saliva is on the bag, and it’s all chewed, and you're inside, all beat up... Anyway, you looked like garbage, is what I’m trying to say.”
“Thanks yeah, I got it.”
“Wait till the MGillicutty Brothers see you now. You just threw Slack-Jawed Al under the bus, you know that?”
“I told you, don't call him that. It’s stupid."
“Yo—ieeeh… Pete? Is that you?”
“It is I. Anything wrong, gentlemen?”
“Um, no, nothing’s… wrong. I um, I see you’re trying out the two-eyed look today. Strong look.”
“Is that a baseball bat?”
“What this? No. Well, yes. We, uh, well… have you seen Slack-Jawed Al?”
"Hey! One-eyed P—"
“No don't. We’re not doing that anymore."
Having watched one of their yellowtail rockfish (Sebastes flavidus) being constantly picked on by its peers, the vets at Vancouver Aquarium decided enough was enough. The rockfish was being bullied because it lost one of its eyes to cataracts, and while it could still swim fine, its one-eyedness made it look like a weak, sick, easy target.
So head veterinarian, Martin Haulena, with the help of Lesanna Lahner, staff veterinarian of Seattle Aquarium, sewed a lovely bright yellow prosthetic eye into its eyeless hole. "You probably don't want one in the nose," Haulena notes in the video above as they figure out where to position it. Classic Haulena.
"The reason we do this is because we do find that when fish are blind from one eye, and there's no visible eye, other fish will recognise that and will actually attack them from that side," Haulena says. "Cosmetic, for sure, but there's definitely an animal welfare component to putting in the prosthetics."
The team also performed this very serious googly eye surgery on one of their copper rockfish (Sebastes caurinus) too.
Meanwhile, Tess - the world's oldest known African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) at the ripe old age of 40 - has been undergoing radiation treatment at Colorado State University (CSU) to treat her sarcoma. This particularly nasty type of cancer, which can affect connective tissues such as fat, blood vessels, nerves, bones, muscles, deep skin tissues, and cartilage, had developed between Tess's beak and her right eye.
"A CT scan confirmed a 1-by-1-by-0.5 centimetre tumour, about the size of a pinto bean, on the right side of Tess’s face," the team says in a university press release. "Jamie Custis, a radiation oncologist, hoped the small tumour could be mitigated with a single 21-minute, 59-second dose of electronic brachytherapy - a form of radiation delivered with state-of-the-art technology, which focuses beams so well that nearby tissues and organs are not harmed."
The great news is, two weeks after recovering from her treatment in isolation, Tess is back with her penguin mates in their Pueblo Zoo enclosure in southern Colorado.
I know what some of you are thinking, "That's a lot of resources and effort for a single penguin, how much did it cost?" No idea, but they had to give it a shot. As a species, African penguins are in real trouble. Their global population has declined from 1.5 million in 1910 to 200,000 in 2000, and then just 55,000 in 2010, when they were officially classified as endangered. According to Rachel L. Weber at The Global Post, if this rate of decline continues, the whole species will be wiped out in just over a decade.
And how appalling, if we let that happen. These odd little guys are just beautiful, with striking two-toned plumage and strange, pink patches of skin above their eyes. These little glands are like built-in thermostats, helping the penguins to cool themselves down, because when temperatures rise, a bunch of blood cells are sent up there to be cooled down and circulated round the body. When this happens, those pink patches get real bright and look a little bit like the penguins have been nuzzling a highlighter.
Also known as jackass penguins because they make super-loud donkey noises at each other, African penguins are native to the south-western coast of Africa, and congregate in various colonies on 24 islands between Namibia and Algoa Bay, and near Port Elizabeth in South Africa. They're also the only species of penguin that breeds in Africa.
These monogamous birds have a ridiculous courtship ritual that involves the males doing a goofy dance for a female, throughout which he'll occasionally run up and touch the tip of her bill-end with his own. So yes, like a bird kiss. "There is an almost human-like embrace when the two birds stand breast to breast," says Toronto Zoo, "enfolding each other with their flippers and with bills interlocked. This ritual reinforces the bond between them."
Maybe using a bunch of resources to extend the life of the world's oldest African penguin by a couple of years or so could be perceived as being a little excessive, but it's got us talking about the plight of the species now, right?As CSU veterinarian Matthew Johnston says, “If this individual animal can tell a story that helps globally with the African penguin, then it’s all worth it."