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SeaWorld – North End: Penguin Encounter

Rating: * * * *
Type: Aquatic habitat
Time: Continuous viewing (5 to 10 minutes)
Kelly says: Kids love this one

This is the only exhibit at SeaWorld that you smell first. It hits you the moment you enter but, for some reason, you get used to it very quickly. Soon you are facing a long glass wall behind which is a charming Antarctic diorama packed with penguins. If you bear to the right as you enter, you are funneled onto a moving conveyor belt that takes you at a steady pace past the viewing area; bearing to the left takes you to a raised, stationary, viewing area. Don’t worry if you get on the conveyor belt and discover you want to dawdle; you can get back to the stationary section at the other end.

As you ride the conveyor, the water level is about at your chest, so you get an excellent view of the underwater antics of these remarkable birds as they almost literally “fly” through the water. On land, their movements are considerably less graceful, but their slow waddling has its own kind of grace, especially in the case of the larger king penguins with their yellow-accented faces. Overhead, artificial snow sprinkles down from hatches in the roof. The water temperature, an electronic readout informs us, is 45 degrees Fahrenheit, while the air temperature is maintained at 34 degrees. Chilly for us, perhaps, but these highly adapted creatures are used to a much deeper freeze, as we discover in the Learning Center immediately past the penguins.

Here, interactive teaching aids provide the curious with a wealth of additional information about gentoos, rockhoppers, and chinstraps. Here, too, you can watch informative videos about the hand-rearing of penguins and how they molt, the Antarctic environment and penguin predators, and Isla Noir, a Chilean island that is especially popular with penguins.

Just past the Learning Center is a smaller habitat featuring alcids, a group of birds, including the puffins and murres, that is the northern equivalent of the penguin. Unlike their Antarctic cousins, these birds fly in the air as well as beneath the sea. The alcid viewing area, like the penguin exhibit, is equally divided between land and sea and, if you’re in luck, you will see murres “flying” to the bottom to scavenge smelt.

As you leave the exhibit, you will have an opportunity to circle back to the penguin viewing area for another look if you wish.

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