Guess who's coming to dinner? Vancouver Aquarium welcomes waddling penguin guests

 The Vancouver Aquarium is known for taking big strides when it comes to raising public awareness for marine animals and environments. This time rather than a stride it is more like a waddle. While the aquarium hosts thousands of visitors each year, seven guests will be staying with them a bit longer than most. About a month ago the Vancouver public got introduced to the aquariums' newest members when two male and five female African penguins made their debut appearance.

 “The public response has been terrific” said Dr. John Nightingale, CEO and president of the Vancouver Aquarium. “Penguins are great at engaging people. A bird that looks like it wears a tuxedo, waddles, and swims better than it flies, is great at getting people's attention”.

 This attention is of great importance as it creates an opportunity to discuss pressing matters such as climate change and hazards to marine sustainability. The penguins, however, are not new to the spotlight. Bred at the New England aquarium in Boston, they are part of the Specie Survival Plan program, which has to goal of conserving and protecting endangered species. With major renovations pending, the New England aquarium sent their penguins on an extended holidays to various locations across North America.

 For the next 3-4 years Vancouver's Aquarium will do their share in hosting some of this group. Dr. Nightingale noted that they were not able to accommodate all of the Boston penguins, but due to expansion the aquarium had some available space. “We are always seeking new ways to engage the public,” said Dr. Nightingale.

 Before the penguins could move in, some habitat considerations had to be made. “These penguins are temperate penguins,” he said. “They live on the tip of South Africa, South America, New Zealand, and Tasmania,” a climate very similar to Vancouver's. Arctic penguins are a different story, and to accommodate such a specie the aquarium would have had to build an ice box.

 While they are not native to North American waters, this will not be Vancouver's first encounter with penguins. Stanley Park's Zoo, which closed down in the mid 1990, also hosted penguins, although it was a different specie. This fond collective memory has only added to the excitement. The penguins are being talked about and this is leading visitors to waddle over to the aquarium to see for themselves. “Attendance by our membership has doubled, and our general public attendance is up by 10%,” said Dr. Nightingale.

 As for the response from the penguins themselves, they were initially very shy, but as time passes they are becoming more playful and interactive with public. During their stay in Vancouver the penguins will be incorporated into public and educational programs to help raise awareness. Incorporating multimedia featuring penguins, such the familiar film Happy Feet, is a tool the aquarium is eager to use. The use of such tools will unfold over several months, but plans will likely involve a contrast between Northern and Southern hemisphere marine life.

 The penguins' visit creates a great opportunity to learn and teach more about the specie. Dr. Nightingale commented that there is the potential for research collaboration with universities, and there is talk of a lecture series in the fall. He also hinted that a new interactive program from the aquarium could be announced next week. Overall, the public can look forward to a lot more penguin activity.



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