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Penguin-Flation: Creatures At Japanese Aquarium Furious After Zookeepers Forced To Buy Cheaper Fish
Two african penguins hugging on rock at Boulders Beach in Simon's Town, Cape Town, South Africa.
Two african penguins hugging on rock at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by: Bruno Guerreiro

Zookeepers at an aquarium in Japan are feeding penguins and otters cheaper fish due to rising inflation, leaving many of the creatures disgruntled.

Before price levels in Japan and around the world began to climb, Hakone-en Aquarium fed penguins and otters horse mackerel. Two months ago, however, the facility started introducing fatty aji into the animals’ diets — a less expensive product. Some are frustrated enough to snobbishly turn their faces away from the food.

“Even if they’ll take it in their beaks, they’ll just spit it out,” Hakone-en head zookeeper Hiroki Shimamoto told Vice, noting that the overall cost of running the aquarium has increased 20% since the beginning of the year. “I’m not sure if the animals can taste a significant difference, but you can tell they’re not used to it.”

Year-over-year inflation in Japan was 2.5% as of April, according to the most recent data available from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Japan — which faces challenges such as high government debt and low birth rates — is experiencing less severe cost pressures than other leading economies. As of April, inflation in nearby South Korea was 4.8%, while inflation in Germany and the United States was 7.4% and 8.3%, respectively.

The animals that dislike the cheaper food are still permitted to continue eating horse mackerel. “For the ones who refuse to eat the new fish, we just give them what they used to eat,” Shimamoto assured Vice.

As inflation has continued to rise in the United States, zoos are hiking their admissions costs. The price of an adult ticket for Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Indiana, increased from $9.50 to $11 last year, while Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio raised rates from $21.99 to $24.99.

“If your admission price is flat and everything else you’re purchasing is going up, that’s pretty much an unsustainable business model,” Columbus Zoo CEO Tom Schmid told The Columbus Dispatch earlier this year.

Food prices are among the factors contributing to the surge in inflation, thereby forcing Americans to cut their budgets for the grocery store. The cost of eggs rose 32% over the past year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while meat, poultry, and fish rose 14.2%, dairy and cereals each rose about 12%, and fruits and vegetables rose 8%.

The cost of food at home, meaning grocery store or supermarket food purchases, saw its fastest increase since April 1979, while the price for food away from home, such as restaurants and school lunches, increased at its most rapid pace since November 1981.

Meanwhile, the University of Michigan’s benchmark Survey of Consumers reached its lowest level since 1952 in May. Nearly 70% of the United States’ economic output hinges upon consumer spending — implying that a drop in consumer sentiment could signal a looming recession.

“Consumers across income, age, education, geographic region, political affiliation, stockholding and homeownership status all posted large declines,” Survey of Consumers Director Joanna Hsu said in a statement. “As higher prices become harder to avoid, consumers may feel they have no choice but to adjust their spending patterns, whether through substitution of goods or foregoing purchases altogether. The speed and intensity at which these adjustments occur will be critical for the trajectory of the economy.”

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