Marwell Zoo resident and international star Ralph the Humboldt penguin has been given a trendy new wetsuit, thanks to Californian wetsuit brand O'Neill. The surf wear brand has been supplying the celebrity bird with a specially made suit since 2013. They recently updated his look after his previous one became tatty.
The 18-year-old penguin needs a customised wetsuit because of the unusual way in which he moults. For most of the year his feathers are very patchy, so the wetsuit keeps him warm while protecting him from the elements.
Meg Fieldhouse is the Birds Team Leader:
“Every year the penguins lose their feathers and grow new ones. It normally takes 2-3 weeks for the whole process to happen. Ralph’s condition means that when he loses his feathers the new ones don’t grow through, leaving him with bald patches.
“His wetsuit keeps him nice and warm during colder weather and in the summer it protects him from the sun too.”
Jan Michaelis is the European Marketing Manager at O’Neill Wetsuits. He said they are very honoured to have Ralph on “Team O’Neill”:
“Team O’Neill is our global team of world-class athletes in surfing, wakeboarding, diving and other water sports. There is no question though, who is the best swimmer and diver on the team!
“We are very happy that we can help this very special, little team member to spend time outdoors and in the water with his friends.”
Aside from wearing a custom-made wetsuit, Ralph swims, eats and plays just like the other penguins. The rubber in the wetsuit, which is the same as a human’s wetsuit, is extremely flexible and doesn’t restrict his movement.
His partner Coral can often be seen grooming and preening Ralph’s wetsuit just as she would if he had feathers! They are actually the zoo’s most successful penguin breeding pair, so the wetsuit is not affecting the couple’s ability to produce chicks.
You can see Ralph trying on his new design here