Aquarium of the Pacific relaunches Penguin Encounters with some new guidelines

After months on hiatus, the Aquarium of the Pacific announced Wednesday that it is bringing back one of its eight Animal Encounters programs, the very popular Penguin Encounters.

For a $150—$135 for aquarium members—a group as small as two and as large as four, from the same household, can spend 30 minutes with a Megallanic penguin before the aquarium opens at 9 a.m. Chaperoning the event will be an aquarium staffer, who will share all types of information about the flightless bird from how it survives in the wild to its care in captivity.

Guests are encouraged to bring cameras or use their phones to take as many photos or videos with the penguin as they like, but masks will need to stay on.

So, why bring back the Penguin Encounters and not, say, the Otter or Octopus Encounters? It wasn’t necessarily because of popularity, although the penguins have always been a popular attraction, but because of space. Namely, the expanse in front of the June Keyes Penguin Habitat, home to 20 Magellanic penguins, was just big enough to safely accommodate a group of four, plus a couple of staff and still stay six feet apart.

Children as young as seven can take part in the encounter, however, any guest under 16 will need to be accompanied by a paid adult participant. Guests are also required to wear closed-toed shoes in addition to wearing a mask and should be prepared to have their temperature taken before entering the aquarium. Anyone with a temperature above 100.4 degrees will not be allowed inside.

To give you a little more of idea of what you can expect from the revamped exhibit, we talked to Frankie Lill, one of the facility’s aviculturists, i.e. bird experts.

How friendly are the penguins?

So, those younger birds, we have about six of them, they are pretty friendly and curious, more so than the older birds that we have, who want nothing to do with the encounters that kind of [hide] out. But the younger birds actually will come up to the door, walk down the stairs and make their way around. That’s them telling us they want to go do this. And so in terms of friendliness, I would say they’re very friendly. They’re curious; they want this and they want to be there. And there are signs for us to know that, no, they don’t want to be there. So we usually pick up on those easily and we will react if we have to. But, they like to be around people.

Can guests pet the penguins?

We’re not really advertising this, but if the right opportunity came along, yes, we would allow that but it depends on the penguin’s mood at that moment. If we feel like the penguin is overstimulated, we may not [allow them to be pet] that day. Really, [the exhibit] is about being up close with the penguins.

Are the penguins pretty popular at the Aquarium?

Yeah, they are. They have a little bit of a following too. We get returning guests that will come back and they remember which penguin is which. We have signage on the side of our habitat so guests can figure out which penguin is which based on the bands [on their bodies]. They all have their own individual personalities, people really love it and they come back and they follow who’s dating who. We also have an online [streaming] platform called explore.org where we even have more folks that come on to watch us [with the penguins] to just be involved and know what’s going on.

The Penguin Encounters exhibit begins August 3 and is currently open for bookings. Reservations must be made 48 hours in advance. The cost of the Penguin Encounter includes the price of admission to the aquarium. For more information and to reserve your encounter, click here

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Cheantay Jensen is an editorial intern who covers art and culture for the Hi-lo section of the Long Beach Post.
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