Pushy Penguins

By CodingStrategies on May 11th, 2018

In the spring of 1993, a young mother decided to take her son to the zoo as a special Easter treat. The young man was hyperactive and a real handful. He would not sit quietly and read, but instead was always getting into all kinds of trouble. Although she hoped the fresh air and novelty of the zoo animals would serve as an outlet for all that energy, she recognized that the zoo was a dangerous place for a child. As a result, he was required as a condition of the outing to hold her hand at all times. But after ten minutes of his tugging, swinging on her arm and kicking in the air, she decided to release him. Thrilled with his new-found freedom, he quickly darted away.

Within minutes he was tearing through the zoo: climbing on the monkey enclosure to make faces at them, poking sticks at the lions in their cages, and trying to swing out over the polar bear enclosure. His mother spent the rest of the afternoon chasing after him, and when the park closed she enlisted the help of the zoo staff to locate him. He finally emerged from a hiding place in the landscaping, very contrite, and marched home quietly with his arms crossed over his jacket. His mother proceeded to give him a real tongue-lashing and as soon as they arrived at the house he rushed upstairs, ostensibly to bathe and prepare for bed. Although his exhausted mother slumped in her chair, she was not allowed to rest. There was a loud commotion upstairs from her son’s bathroom, and she rushed in to discover her son splashing gaily in the tub with a small, bewildered penguin he had apparently brought home from the zoo.

Do you believe it? Well, it isn’t true. This legend has been retold many times over the years and always features a penguin, because penguins are generally not afraid of humans and unlikely to cause harm if kidnapped. Penguins are perceived as lacking in natural defenses, making them perfect for a zoo abduction story. In reality, most types of penguins are considerably bigger than people actually picture them and they are capable of delivering some nasty bites when threatened. The emperor penguin is the largest of the species and can grow to over 3.5 feet tall and weigh about 75 pounds. In contrast, the little blue penguin only grows to about 1.5 feet in height and weighs about 3 pounds.

Penguins are aquatic birds that rely on the ocean for sustenance; they primarily eat fish, squid and krill. Unlike most marine fowl, penguins are unable to fly and have adapted to an aquatic life in the southern hemisphere. They spend as much as half of their lives swimming in the ocean, using their flipper-like wings to fly effortlessly through the water. When frightened, penguins can reach speeds of up to 17 mph for brief periods of time, although they typically average 3.5 to 7.5 mph during a regular swim.

Most dives do not exceed 60 feet, although some penguin species are capable of diving nearly 2000 feet when hunting for food. They capture their prey by grabbing it with their bill and swallowing it whole. Large penguin colonies (numbering over 100,000 penguins) are able to consume millions of pounds of food on a daily basis, increasing the need for regular forays into the ocean. But penguins have enemies lurking beneath the waves, including leopard seals, orcas and sea lions, so they may hesitate when considering diving in for a snack. There is really no strategy for determining if a predator is hiding below, so oftentimes penguins congregate at the water’s edge and play a waiting game, hoping that some brave (or extremely hungry) individual will take the plunge. Eventually, one or two will dive in and they may (or may not) be followed by the other hungry birds.

Rumor has it that if none of the waiting penguins is hungry enough to brave the waves, then the assembled crew will nudge one of those on the edge into the water. The remainder of the colony then waits to see if their sacrifice returns to the surface, which signals an all-clear for the seafood buffet. Is it amazing that penguins would have a social structure that involves forfeiting one of their own to ensure a pleasant atmosphere for their dinner?  Alas, this is another of the penguin legends! Instead of intentionally pushing one another into the water, the crowding that occurs on the shoreline may cause one or more of the assembly to tumble into the water by accident. While not the same as deliberately pushing an unsuspecting companion into danger, the fallen penguin may be the victim of a predator either way.


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There is an ICD-10-CM code that would be appropriate for the accidental push:

W51.XXXA           Accidental striking against or bumped into another person, initial encounter

Or, if the pushing was intentional, there is a different diagnosis code:

Y04.2XXA             Assault by strike against or bumped into by another person, initial encounter

And, there are relevant codes for falling, without being pushed:

W16.112A            Fall into natural body of water striking water surface causing other injury, initial encounter

W00.2XXA           Other fall from one level to another due to ice and snow, initial encounter

In addition, there are specific diagnosis codes to report should an attack by a predator result from the sudden unexpected fall into the ocean:

W56.11XA           Bitten by sea lion, initial encounter

W56.21XA           Bitten by orca, initial encounter

W56.31XA           Bitten by other marine mammals, initial encounter

Perhaps the fear of being pushed in the deep end is the reason that a penguin in residence at a British zoo developed a fear of water. Staff at the Blackbrook Zoological Park in Leek, England said that Kentucky, an 11-year-old Humbolt penguin, developed a phobia of water. Kentucky was undersized when born, lost feathers too quickly and reportedly finds the water too cold for his comfort. Or, he suspects what might lurk beneath the surface of the zoo pond and simply waits for someone to deliver his food to him while he is safe on shore.