Explore Flowcharts That Japanese Aquariums Use to Document the Romantic Lives of Penguins

In recent years, view­ers the world over have been binge-watch­ing a Japan­ese real­i­ty show called Ter­race House. The New York­er’s Troy Pat­ter­son describes its for­mat thus: “Three men and three women move into an ele­gant pad for a spell, while oth­er­wise con­duct­ing their lives as usu­al. The mem­bers of the cast are above aver­age in their cam­era-readi­ness and their civil­i­ty, and in no oth­er dis­cernible way.” Fueled not by the self-pro­mo­tion­al show­boat­ing and ginned-up resent­ment that have become con­ven­tions of Ter­race House’s West­ern pre­de­ces­sors, “the show’s slow-burn­ing action is sparked by the hon­est fric­tion of minor per­son­al­i­ty flaws and con­flict­ing per­son­al needs,” mak­ing it “clos­er to a nature doc­u­men­tary than to the exploita­tion films that one has come to expect from real­i­ty tele­vi­sion.”

If view­ing human beings the way we’re used to view­ing nature can give us such sat­is­fac­tion, how about view­ing nature the way we’re used to view­ing human beings? Japan, as John­ny Wald­man reports at Spoon and Tam­a­go, has led the way in both rever­sals: “Two aquar­i­ums in Japan, Kyoto Aquar­i­um and Sum­i­da Aquar­i­um, keep obses­sive tabs on their pen­guins and main­tain an updat­ed flow­chart that visu­al­izes all their pen­guin dra­ma.”

Wald­man quotes Japan-based researcher Oliv­er Jia as tweet­ing the fact that “Pen­guin dra­ma actu­al­ly isn’t total­ly unex­pect­ed. They’re known to be vicious ani­mals who cheat on their part­ners and steal oth­er’s chil­dren. So basi­cal­ly, your aver­age day in Los Ange­les” — the cra­dle, one might add, of the real­i­ty-TV indus­try.

Though the lives of pen­guins may, in the eyes of the aquar­i­um-vis­it­ing lay­man, appear to con­sist entire­ly of swim­ming, eat­ing fish, and stand­ing around, the ani­mals’ “roman­tic escapades are fair­ly easy to observe,” at least accord­ing to Wald­man’s trans­la­tion of the pen­guin care­tak­ers at the Sum­i­da Aquar­i­um. “Wing-flap­ping is a sign of affec­tion and cou­ples can be seen groom­ing each oth­er. Pen­guins who are get­ting over a break-up will often refuse to eat.” This is the kind of obser­va­tion­al data that inform the inten­sive­ly detailed (and cute­ness-opti­mized) pen­guin-rela­tion­ship dia­grams seen here, high-res­o­lu­tion ver­sions of which you can down­load from the Kyoto Aquar­i­um and Sum­i­da Aquar­i­um’s web sites. Now that Ter­race House has come to an end, per­haps the time has come on Japan­ese real­i­ty tele­vi­sion for a bit of non-human dra­ma.

via Spoon and Tam­a­go

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Act of Love: A Strange, Won­der­ful Visu­al Dic­tio­nary of Ani­mal Courtship

See Pen­guins Wear­ing Tiny “Pen­guin Books” Sweaters, Knit­ted by the Old­est Man in Aus­tralia

Japan­ese Design­er Cre­ates Incred­i­bly Detailed & Real­is­tic Maps of a City That Doesn’t Exist

The First Muse­um Ded­i­cat­ed to Japan­ese Folk­lore Mon­sters Is Now Open

Dis­cov­er the Japan­ese Muse­um Ded­i­cat­ed to Col­lect­ing Rocks That Look Like Human Faces

Meet Con­go the Chimp, London’s Sen­sa­tion­al 1950s Abstract Painter

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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