ghoulish aside, the announcer told us that if we ventured outside at the Russian Vostok base in winter wearing only regular clothing, we would be dead in less than a minute because our lungs would freeze and our blood turn to jelly. Brrrr! This rather Disneyesque Center also had a wildlife experience for us. Under the auspices of DOC, the Center provides a home for disabled fairy (blue) penguins who could not be released into the wilds after their recovery from either injury or disease. Here they have a climate controlled environment with snow and ice as well as a commodious swimming pool/tank which allows visitors to watch their underwater “flying.” These penguins are the smallest in the world, standing less than 16 inches high and weighing 2.2 lbs. compared to the Emperors who are 3 ft. 7 inches tall and weigh about 75 lbs. But these little guys are really dominant in the charm department. So awkward and waddly on land, so balletic and graceful in the water. Their tuxedos make them look faintly ridiculous, like all penguins, but endearing as well. There is some controversy among penguin biologists about the total number of different penguin species, but the number usually agreed upon is 17. Of those, 7 live in New Zealand, the most in any one country. An interesting factoid about the name of this bird: It is most often accepted that “penguin ” is a Welsh word meaning “white-headed.” Interesting since not all penguins have white feathers on their heads! Why the Welsh had the honor of naming the bird is also unknown. Actually, there are other theories about the word’s origin. Some linguists say that the extinct Great Auk of the Arctic was called Pen Gwyn, pronounced as Pin-wing, since that bird also had rudimentary wings like modern penguins. Still others believe that the word came from the Latin, pingius, meaning “fat.” There is not much evidence supporting a Latin origin. No definitive answer is accepted.
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