Pierre (born 1983) is an African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) who lives at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. He is the first penguin (and likely the first bird) to have bald spots restored.
In 1997, the then-14-year-old Pierre began coughing periodically, due to an allergic reaction inflaming the upper respiratory tract, treated with one or two daily doses of hydroxyzine. Most penguins live to 15. However, Pierre showed no other health issues.
In June 2004, Pierre molted what seemed would be his last coat of feathers.
Pierre, who is the alpha male in his colony, began to become antisocial, and was shunned by the other penguins. He wouldn't swim much, since the water was too cold and he could develop potentially fatal hypothermia.
The bald spots spanned his chest, a patch on his back, and his entire tail and head. Medical tests in 2007 revealed that there was no blood infection, the feather biopsies yielded all normal limits, and the only internal dysfunction seemed to be a low-grade kidney problem.
Senior aquatic biologist Pam Schaller took Pierre under her wing when she saw him shivering. She attempted warming him at first, both with extended time in the "sun pen" and later a heat lamp, and when a hormonal treatment of levothyroxine failed, she thought about how divers dress in cold waters—in wetsuits.
In 2007, Schaller designed a wetsuit with the help of Oceanic Worldwide, a wetsuit manufacturer and children's costume seamstress Celeste Argel. The new wetsuit was designed to protect Pierre from the bitter cold that would have otherwise killed him. It was sewn in the shape of a vest, to allow movement when waddling and swimming. The 3 mm-thick neoprene vest was fastened using Velcro. The neoprene material allowed for wet/dry movement and warmth. The colors white, brown, and black were all tested, but each one seemed to draw curiosity from the other penguins. Black was the most discreet option, so that color was chosen for the vest. The vest had holes for Pierre's wings so that he could move them freely. The Velcro fastener ran vertically on the vest, so that if Pierre should gain or lose weight, he would not need a new vest.
After several attempts and close observances, the suit was fitted perfectly for Pierre. NPR's All Things Considered called him "the world's best-dressed penguin". In fact, the other penguins seemed to think the same; they stopped picking on him when he began swimming again with the vest.
Staff noted that Pierre had no problems molting prior to his hydroxyzine treatments. Ever since the treatments had begun, they had removed him from the medication for as long as half a year at a time to verify that the medicine was indeed working.
Because the vest was worn during one of these periods when Pierre was not on his treatments, it is unknown whether the hydroxyzine was the actual cause of the molting problem. Another hypothesis was that Pierre was burning extra calories, causing irregularities.
Following his recovery in April 2008, staff placed him back on his treatments. Although it was acknowledged[by whom?] that the experiment was not properly conducted, since there were two variables at once, staff agreed that it was for the better, since Pierre was clearly needing warmth.
Six weeks after his vestment, Pierre showed signs of recovery, and the vest was removed.
Pierre regained his respect from the rest of his colony as the leader, overseeing 19 fellow penguins.
- Why and How to Make a Penguin Wetsuit by Pamela Schaller - Drum and Croaker (non-peer-reviewed journal for public aquarium professionals).
- "Surfer Look Keeps Penguin in the Swim". The Washington Post. April 29, 2008.
- Andrew Gumbel (2008-04-26). "How Pierre the penguin got back in the swim again". The Independent. Retrieved 2008-04-26.
- "Pierre Sheds Wet Suit for Real Penguin Suit". All Things Considered. NPR. April 25, 2008.