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Meet Sydney’s first colony of sub-Antarctic penguins
Written by
Emma Joyce

Today, Sydney welcomed a waddle of King and Gentoo penguins to their new home at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, which is a world-first exhibit inspired by Macquarie Island in the Southwest Pacific Ocean.

The King and Gentoo penguins have travelled from Sea Life Melbourne (they travelled in a custom cooled truck) to their new icy playground, which has been designed to replicate the environment on the sub-Antarctic island. 

Tish Hannan, the senior penguin trainer at Sea Life Sydney, says, “The enclosure is set at six degrees and our lighting cycle is set to the light times of Macquarie Island too, which means the penguins get around two hours of darkness in summer and the complete opposite in winter.”

Sea Life Sydney Aquarium Penguin Expedition
Gentoo penguins making a dash for the pool

“The Gentoos love to play, so they’re always in the pool,” says Hannan. “They tend to swim in the day and we do a lot of pool feedings to give them their natural feeding habits. The Kings take short swims, about five or six times a day.”

In Penguin Expedition, guests can board a raft that takes them through the exhibit, bringing you up close to the penguins’ swimming pool and icy habitat. The short boat ride is a perfect opportunity to take a photo (without flash, as it hurts their eyes) and the experience ends with a projection of the Southern Lights and burst of ‘snow’ falling in the tunnel.

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the penguins as they’re being fed. “Their staple diet is lots of red-spot whiting, salmon, trout, squid, pilchards and whitebait,” says Hannan. “We source it locally and use sustainable fisheries. In the wild the Gentoos feed on a lot of krill, which is what gives the colouring to their beak and their feet. Because fishing krill is unsustainable here, we give them a multivitamin every day to give them their colouring.”

The $9 million exhibition has been 18 months in the making, including a dedicated penguin-breeding program on site – marine biologists are hoping to see baby chicks as early as 2017.

If you walk away from the exhibition with one message, Sea Life Sydney hopes it will be that you reconsider your consumption of single-use plastics. Sadly, Macquarie Island has plastic bags, straws and coffee cups wash up on its shores every day, which is obviously terrible for the penguins. Though the species are not on the endangered list, the aquarium has commissioned a research project with a marine scientist to assess the plastic contamination rates on Macquarie Island.

Entrance to Penguin Expedition is included in the cost of general admission ($29.50-$42). 

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