This tour has three stops. The first two take you “backstage” at Wild Arctic. The first stop is the beluga whale holding pool, where you may be lucky enough to see “off-duty” whales relaxing. Also in this area are some of the seals that keep the belugas company in the exhibit. Then it’s off past the huge filtration tanks that keep the artificial salt water in the attraction sparkling clean, to the hidden “den” of the polar bears.
Whether you will actually see any bears depends on your luck with timing. Nothing happens on a rigid or even regular schedule with these animals. Their keepers don’t want them to become habituated to a set routine and, so, try to keep the daily sequence of events as it is in the wild — fairly random.
Even if you don’t get to see bears through the glass in their den, you can see them on the remote video camera that is focused on their public habitat. You will also get a wealth of fascinating information about polar bears in the wild and the behind-the-scenes world of Wild Arctic. You might be told, for example, that the water in the exhibit is kept at 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, just warm enough to prevent ice from forming on the bears’ fur. When keepers must enter the water, they wear three wet suits and then can only stay in the water ten minutes before hypothermia starts to set in. You’ll even get to pet polar bear fur (courtesy of a deceased bear whose pelt remains behind for its educational value).
The next stop, after a short bus ride, is the chilly confines of the Avian Research lab, where you will have a chance to pet a Magellanic penguin (two fingers only, please!). Penguin mothers have a spotty record when it comes to parenting skills. Abandoned or abused chicks are brought here to be reared in a more caring environment. The center even hatches orphaned eggs. Depending on when you visit, you may see young chicks covered in their downy gray baby coats or molting into the more recognizable sleek black and white of their mature feathers. Penguins are gregarious and curious birds and they will take great interest in your visit, waddling over for a closer look and eyeing you with apparent curiosity. Careful of your fingers!
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