Home to largest penguin colony in Aquarium’s history set to undergo important updates just in time for World Penguin Day

Just one day before World Penguin Day, Aquarium officials announced that Penguin Island, home to Adventure Aquarium’s largest-ever African penguin colony, will undergo major renovations. World Penguin Day is officially celebrated annually on April 25 but the Aquarium had a head start on the holiday with the announcement. The open-air exhibit, built in 1998, contains 17,000 gallons of water and a 20-foot underwater viewing window.

“As an AZA-accredited facility, the health and wellness of the animals in our care is always our top priority,” said Vince Nicoletti, Vice President and Executive Director of Adventure Aquarium. “As our African penguin colony continues to grow, we are eager to meet, and exceed, the needs of our birds by creating an environment that will allow them to flourish as a group.”

Construction will take place in two phases, the first beginning on Monday, April 24 with a focus on rockwork in the space. The land area will be completely renovated to include custom textured rockwork specially-designed for good penguin foot health. The beach landscape will also be reshaped to include additional zero-entry areas in and out of the pool. Zero-entry, also called beach entry, is an edge into a pool that gradually slopes from the land into the water, becoming deeper with each step, similar to a natural beach. In addition, the exhibit pool will switch from fresh to salt water which will more closely mimic their natural ocean environment.

“We believe these updates will be beneficial not only to our African penguins but our guests as well,” said Nicoletti. “The improvements should encourage the birds to be more active in the water and on land areas.”

A radiant heating system will also be installed beneath the land areas of the exhibit. The system will heat the decks during the winter months, ensuring the penguins are more comfortable in cooler temperatures, preventing snow and ice buildup and protecting the deck from cracking due to winter freeze and thaw cycles. The back of house Life Support System (LSS) will also be upgraded.

Nesting grottos, nooks and caves will also be constructed throughout the exhibit, allowing the penguins to create a more diverse, complex environment and establish more territories. These additional spaces will be beneficial to the growing colony. The Aquarium participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA’s) African penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program that encourages zoos and aquariums to work in concert to help ensure the survival of African penguins through a scientifically-controlled breeding program.

Along with plans for exhibit renovations, Adventure Aquarium has welcomed six adult penguins over the last year. The new additions to the colony came from three facilities: Male PJ from Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, MD; male Blythe and female Jumoke from Greensboro Science Center in Greensboro, NC; and males Marvel and Toad along with female Swoop from Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, NY. With the addition of chicks from successful breeding seasons in recent years, the colony has grown to 34 birds – the largest colony in the history of Adventure Aquarium.

The penguins will be moved off exhibit to a behind the scenes location during both phases of construction but the Aquarium has plans to ensure they will still make appearances for guests.

“Our African penguins are one of our most popular animals at the Aquarium, and we will make sure they can still visit with our guests,” said Nicoletti. “Additional up close opportunities will be available throughout the day at Discovery Deck in Zone B. Guests can also visit our little blue penguins in Zone A. Our popular Penguin Encounter, which allows guests a personal, up close experience will also be available on weekends, including Fridays beginning on Memorial Day weekend.”

Following completion of phase one construction in mid-June, the penguins will return to their exhibit and remain for the duration of the summer months. During the second phase of construction, set to begin this upcoming fall, back-of-house areas will be renovated and expanded upon.

Construction will continue through the winter months with an official reopening of the new and improved Penguin Island in the spring of 2018. Guests are invited to visit and follow AAQ’s social media accounts for Penguin Island construction updates.