Pierre the Penguin and His Neoprene Suit

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Neoprene is a type of synthetic rubber that has many uses as material for wetsuits, knee braces, protective covers for laptops, and as covering for featherless penguins.  Invented in 1930 by DuPoint scientists, the chemically stable and flexible material is highly effective at keeping bodies warm in cold waters.  Pierre is an African penguin whose home is the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) in San Francisco.

In 2004, caretakers at the museum noticed that Pierre was not regrowing his feathers after molting and his body was covered in bald spots.  Formerly an alpha male within the exhibit, the other penguins began to ostracize poor Pierre and the featherless penguin became antisocial.  Pam Schaller, a senior biologist at the CAS, tried several remedies after she noticed Pierre shivering and avoiding the water.  When those failed, she turned to the idea of creating a neoprene suit similar to what surfers and divers use to keep warm in the water.  After testing different colors, the discreet color of black was selected and a small bodysuit was developed for Pierre.

With his new suit, and the approval of NPR which called him “the world’s best-dressed penguin”, Pierre began to act more social and the other penguins stopped shunning him.  A book written about Pierre the Penguin concurs, “Standing on a rock in his new wetsuit, Pierre the Penguin looked mighty cute.” After about six weeks, Pierre began regrowing new feathers and no longer needed the wet suit.

Pierre the Penguin before and after getting his neoprene bodysuit.
Pierre the Penguin before and after getting his neoprene bodysuit.

More: Pierre Sheds Wet Suit for Real Penguin Suit – NPR.org, April 25, 2008

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