Courtesy California Academy of Sciences

Cal Academy’s beloved wetsuit-wearing African penguin dies

A spunky, 33-year-old African penguin with his own Wikipedia page and book has died, officials with the California Academy of Sciences announced.

Pierre the penguin died three weeks ago of kidney failure because of old age.

“Pierre, I think, was one of our most distinguished penguins,” California Academy of Sciences Assistant Aquarium Curator Vikki McCloskey said.

Pierre lived a long time for his species, which live typically only 15 to 20 years in the wild. Thirty-three is even a long life for penguins in captivity, McCloskey said.

McCloskey worked closely with Pierre.

Biologists noticed only a day or two before he died that he was not as spunky as usual.

“You could just tell he was not feeling quite right,” McCloskey said.

Veterinarians did a work up on him but he died the next day.

Pierre hatched on Feb. 16, 1983, at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and his parents raised him in Maryland until he was a juvenile, officials with the academy said.

He came to the California Academy of Sciences in June of 1983 with 15 other penguins.

In 2007, Pierre molted as penguins do every year, but showed signs of balding and failed to grow his feathers back, according to academy officials.

Tests and therapies were done but nothing was successful at getting him to grow his feathers back.

Without his feathers, he was not waterproof, had trouble keeping warm and other penguins starting picking on him.

So biologists helped design a neoprene wetsuit for him.

“Neoprene makes you waterproof,” McCloskey said. It also kept him warm and allowed him to use his energy to grow his feathers back.

“That worked,” McCloskey said.

According to McCloskey, Pierre had a distinct personality.

“He was Mr. Personality right up to the end,” she said. Pierre walked around his home in the academy like he owned it. “He didn’t put up with anything from the youngsters,” she said. “I used to joke that we all work for Pierre.”

When Pierre had trouble growing his feathers back and donned the wetsuit, the incident prompted a 2010 book titled “Pierre the Penguin: A True Story” by Jean Marzollo and published by Sleeping Bear Press. Laura Regan did the illustrations.

McCloskey said Pierre lived a full life right up to the end.

Pierre’s Wikipedia page can be found at

African penguins joined the endangered species list in 2010, academy officials said. Penguins at the academy are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, which aims to maintain the genetic diversity of captive species.

The survival plan includes a breeding and transfer plan among aquariums that pairs penguins with others who are least like them to help the species survive.

“Pierre is well represented,” McCloskey said.

He is the father of 16 chicks, 27 grand chicks and 11 great grand chicks, so far.

McCloskey said one thing she would want people to do is remember his species and do whatever they can to help African penguins in the wild. African penguinCalifornia Academy of SciencesPierre the penguin

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