Few people can say that their fashion choices have had a profound impact on their health, and even fewer penguins; but such was the case with Wonder Twin, a 26-year-old female Adelie penguin. Due to a still unknown condition, (which may also occur in a penguin’s natural habitat) Wonder Twin was having serious molting issues. Molting, or growing new feathers, is annual for her species and necessary for health and survival. As TJ Dray, one of SeaWorld’s aviculturalists, put it, “They spend three-quarters of their life in the water. They get their food from the water. If they don’t get those feathers every year consistently, they can start having issues with their health.” Dray’s estimate of Wonder Twin’s feather coverage, which is normally around 70 feathers per square inch, was at only 50 percent.
Wonder Twin’s problem was confronted with a very stylish solution. A custom-tailored wetsuit, SeaWorld logo included. Starting at the idea stage in a SeaWorld team meeting, and taking a nod from sweaters used for penguins after an oil spill on the Australian coast, the staff set to work. Originally neoprene, the wetsuit was converted to a lighter material due to buoyancy issues. The task of sewing the penguin’s water-wear fell to Maria Barreto, whose responsibilities are usually relegated to stitching for humans in SeaWorld’s costuming department. With a new look came a new diet: with Wonder Twin indulging in fattier herring, with a side of supplements and hormone therapy.
In December, the bird had finally begun the molting process, and today has the feathers of an average, healthy penguin. SeaWorld won’t be getting rid of the wetsuit anytime soon though, on the chance that the problem may reappear next molting season. The recovery could be credited to the suit, the diet, or a combination of factors; but the SeaWorld staff now has a plan in place if it continues to occur.