1. How much space do the penguins need?
Our exhibit was meticulously designed to ensure that we provide exactly what our Gentoos need. It took 2 years of careful planning and design to ensure that the penguins are comfortable and happy here at The Deep, which is our number one concern.
It was built using the American and European penguin husbandry manuals which provide information on suitable land area, surface area of water and volume of water that you need for different species and for different numbers of birds. We also took advice from a number of penguin experts both in the UK and abroad.
This meant building a climate controlled enclosure with a specialist recirculating filtration system for the air and water. The theming of the enclosure has also been designed to give an interesting and enriching environment for the penguins and includes a number of different stimuli for them.
2. What do penguins do for fun?
Penguins are very easy to keep happy as they are naturally inquisitive animals. We are careful when providing enrichment that what we offer is based on the specific requirements of penguins and not on a human perception of what penguins like to do! The exhibit itself provides a variety of areas for the penguins to explore including access to ice which builds up in the exhibit throughout the day (which they play with, move, stand on and chase). Different sized and shaped stones in the beach areas encourage natural behaviour in stone selection for nesting material and social interactions.
Penguins also favour a variety of textures to walk and stand on. As well as the different terrain you see there are also a range of different textured mats out of view for them to stand or lie down on. If you can't see all the penguins they may well be up there by the window taking a break out of view. The window itself provides views of birds flying past and projected moving cloud images on the walls also act as a visual stimulus. As night falls in the exhibit we have the option to project the southern lights onto the wall which adds slow moving colour.
There is also a lot of social enrichment between the animals through natural behaviours (play, courtship, nest building, etc.). In addition, keeper interaction during feeding and cleaning times engages the animals. Cleaning duties involve brushes and hoses which themselves engage the birds. Feeding is offered by hand or via foraging for food in the water or on land.
In addition a wide variety of children's toys can be used to introduce changes into the exhibit. Floating objects, balls, bubble machines and coloured objects all provide interest for the birds. The key to good enrichment is to provide different things as randomly as possible, at unpredictable times and for different lengths of time.
3. Why is the display indoors?
Gentoo penguins are a Sub Antarctic species of bird and as such enjoy colder temperatures. Our climate here in Hull would be too warm for them in the summer months and so our exhibit has been designed and built with an air conditioning system which also filters the air keeping it as clean and fresh as possible. Having an indoor exhibit means we can also chill the water to ensure a natural water temperature.
During the cooler months the penguins will have access to the purpose built outdoor balcony.
4. Why are we unable to go inside the penguin exhibit?
Our exhibit was meticulously designed to ensure that we meet the penguins' needs and to ensure they are comfortable and happy. Having our visitors go through the exhibit would compromise the climate control and air filtration of the exhibit which would not be in the best interests of the birds.
The three different viewing areas give three very different perspectives of the enclosure and allow for the chance to get literally centimetres away from the penguins. They can be seen from above, underwater and on land. Whilst walking through the Kingdom of Ice as you approach the penguin display you are able to get a feel for the penguins' cold environment and touch our real ice walls.
5. Why does it go dark in the exhibit during the winter?
The penguins enclosure has a purpose built lighting system which replicates the day length throughout the year in South Georgia. It follows a Northern hemisphere regime rather than a Southern hemisphere regime so in the winter the exhibit will have shorter days like we do in the UK.
Penguins rely on day length as a trigger for their annual moult (when they lose and replace feathers). This lighting system means that they get all the right cues to do this properly.
The penguins can still be seen after sunset in the winter months as the exhibit has a moon light. The penguins will likely be less active as they rest during the darker hours.
6. When are the penguins most active?
The penguins tend to be most active in the morning and early afternoon and can be seen swimming, jumping and waddling around. Later in the afternoon, their pace slows down in preparation for 'sunset', and they are often seen preening their feathers and resting later in the day.
7. When is it easiest to see the penguins?
The Deep tends to be at its busiest between 11am and 1.30pm, so if you would prefer it to be quieter, then we suggest visiting outside of these times. We appreciate the viewing windows can get busy and we don't want to rush our visitors, but please be considerate and let everyone have a chance to see them when you have had a good look.
8. Why do the penguins occasionally look scruffy?
Once a year penguins (like all other birds) 'moult'. This is a natural process where they lose and regrow their feathers. It can take a few weeks for the process to complete but during this time they can appear scruffy and inactive.
In the two weeks before the penguins moult, their appetite increases and they eat more food in preparation. Gentoos have two types of feathers; a soft downy woollen layer to keep them warm and a waterproof layer on top to keep them dry, and during the moult these are lost. Penguins will therefore spend much more time on land and are generally less active.