“Hello, welcome to the Penguin Exhibit. Step Right In!”


Outside the New England Aquarium!

Let me start by admitting that I have never been to the New England Aquarium before. So, when I showed up and met Paul Leonard at the front desk, I wasn’t really sure what I was in for. Turns out I was going to get a better first look at the aquarium than most people could dream of! In less than an hour I had helped with food prep, changed into a wetsuit, and climbed down a ladder INTO the penguin exhibit!  How’s THAT for the first time visiting an aquarium!?  I got to actually go in the exhibit and help Paul feed the penguins and clean their rock islands! The New England Aquairum is home to four types of penguins, two different types of rockhoppers (the ones with the crazy yellow feathers on their heads), Africans, and little blue penguins (smallest penguins in the world). They have something akin to 80 penguins in their facility, and EVERY single one has a name! If you’ve ever been to the aquarium you may have noticed the bead bracelets that the penguins have on their wings. By looking at the colors of the beads and what side the penguin wears its bracelet on, the interns and employees can determine their names. One of the things in their job description is to actually memorize each penguin’s bracelet and name! It was so cool, and it really helps them keep track of how each penguin is doing.

Some of the rockhopper penguins! 🙂

All of the penguins are basically wild, and no one touches them unless it is absolutely necessary. However, all of the penguins have been trained to be hand-fed. This also helps everyone keep track of each individual penguin’s health. As one person feeds the penguin (normally the person that has memorized all their names..) their scribe (me!)  tallies how many fish that penguin eats. And, while the penguin is being fed, they are also getting a visual check-up. The penguins get fed twice a day, so they get a min-check often enough that it is easy to tell when there is something wrong with them…which isn’t often. These little penguins are treated like royalty!

Interns and volunteers check every single fish before putting it in the feeding bins, and the fish is all restaurant-grade. The kitchen that the preparation is done in is also kept super clean at chef-standard. They actually do this in all of their kitchens for every animal in order to minimize disease transfer from damaged food to the animals. So, basically, you could cook-up this fish in this kitchen and eat it yourself if you wanted to! It’s a pretty spiffy set-up.

Cleaning the rock islands in the penguin exhibit.

In the exhibit, which has no glass separating it from the public and sits at the base of the giant ocean tank, there are a bunch of fiberglass rock islands that the penguins live on. These are also kept as clean as possible, getting scrubbed and washed down once every day. I worked with the little blue penguins in the morning, and then the rockhoppers in the afternoon, and got my fair share of scrubbing in. (Side Note: Rock climbing in a wetsuit = easier said than done). One of the neat things about there being no glass between the public and the exhibit means that they can ask us questions while we are in working with the penguins, and, if we can hear them, we get to interact with them at the same time as the penguins! Today was a ton of fun, and  a spectacular way to both get introduced to the aquarium for the first time and to learn about penguins! What happens tomorrow? I get to see what the world looks like from the perspective of a giant fish tank! Giant Ocean Tank, here I come! 😀