Aquarium’s ‘Penguin Palooza’ to Open March 26

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Exhibit Features New Species, New Habitat and New ‘Playground’ Area

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If you love penguins, there’s no better place to visit than Newport Aquarium.

Newport Aquarium is putting the finishing touches on its brand new Penguin Palooza exhibit, set to open to the public on Saturday, March 26.

The popular cold penguin exhibit, which has been closed since early January, will feature two new species, a new habitat for the birds and new interactive opportunities for guests.

“We set out to make one of our guests’ favorite areas and one of the country’s best penguin displays even better,” said Ric Urban, curator of birds and mammals for Newport Aquarium. “With construction almost complete, I think it’s safe to say we hit a homerun. This is going to be a fun exhibit.”

Among its many new features, the Penguin Palooza exhibit – sponsored by Kroger - will host two new species: the Rockhopper penguin and the Inca Tern bird.

Six Rockhopper penguins will join the Aquarium’s 28 King, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins already home to the cold penguin exhibit, making this display one of the most diverse penguin collections in the country. Rockhoppers are among the smallest of the world's penguins, having an average length of around 20 inches, and an average weight of about 6.5 pounds. Rockhoppers are distinguishable from other penguin species due to their unusual color and cresting. A yellow stripe above each eye projects into a yellow crest, and these are joined behind the head by a black occipital crest. Their eyes are red, the short bulbous bill is reddish brown, and the feet and legs are pink. A recent large-scale decline in the Rockhopper population in the wild has caused the species to be placed on the globally threatened list.

Also new to the exhibit will be, for the first time, flying birds. Six Inca Terns will join the penguins in the refurbished space. This uniquely-plumaged bird, usually found on the coasts of Peru and Chile, can be identified by its dark grey body, white moustache on the both sides of its head, and red-orange beak and feet.

“When we removed the dome ceiling in the exhibit space, we reclaimed 16 feet of vertical space,” Urban said. “It allowed us to add flying birds to the display, making it the most realistic natural environment for the animals we could imagine.”

In addition to expanding the exhibit space vertically, Aquarium biologists worked with rock-formation experts to redesign the interior of the display to create a more dynamic, interesting habitat for the animals. The additional “steps” in the rock formation also provides more nesting opportunities for the birds and more paths for the penguins to explore in the new display.

But the penguins aren’t the only ones who will notice big changes in the exhibit.

There’s a new, expanded seating area for Aquarium guests to sit and watch the penguins play and swim. Reconfiguration in the space moved the viewing area closer to the action (kids can now stand right next to where the penguins swim!), widened the seating benches and added an extra row so more people could enjoy the penguins on the Aquarium’s busiest days.

The Aquarium also utilized adjacent, unused, behind-the-scenes space to more than double the footprint of the guest side of the exhibit. Included in that new space will be the Penguin Playground, featuring: interactive activities for kids, a map of penguin habitats world-wide, “fast fact” graphical displays as well as fun photo opportunities for families with three-dimensional penguin models.

The opening of the exhibit will also signal the launch of the Aquarium’s newest live show. Taking place in the Penguin Palooza exhibit space, the show will feature an Aquarium presenter who will entertain guests with penguin facts and interact with several animated penguin characters on a new high definition video board, all made exclusively for the Aquarium’s Penguin Palooza exhibit. The Aquarium’s web site will list show times for each day once the exhibit is open so that guests can plan their visit accordingly.

Also new in the exhibit is a state-of-the-art LED lighting grid that greatly conserves energy. Urban noted that the penguins will be kept on their natural southern hemisphere lighting cycle in the exhibit. The Aquarium’s summer is the penguins’ winter and vice versa. In the old exhibit, that meant turning the lights off as early as 4 p.m. during the summer. But with the new lighting system, Urban said, they designed a new, night-time lighting cycle modeled after Aurora australis – the southern hemisphere’s version of northern lights - that will allow the penguins to be seen at night.

“The night time lighting is something we really think our late afternoon Aquarium guests and special events and wedding guests will love,” Urban said.

The exhibit will still be kept at 34-degrees and feature an 8,000-gallon salt-water tank in which the penguins can swim. It will also continue to snow in the exhibit – thanks to an artificial snow machine – during the penguin’s winter. The penguin exhibit was one of Newport Aquarium’s original exhibit areas when it opened to the public in 1999 and is one of the most popular exhibits in the Aquarium. This is the exhibit’s first major renovation since opening.

Behind-the-scenes construction has been underway since late September. Full construction on the exhibit began in early January 2011. The penguins have been housed in an off-site facility since the exhibit was closed to the public.

The all-new Penguin Palooza exhibit isn’t the only way to enjoy penguins at the Aquarium. The new exhibit joins the popular Penguin Encounters and the daily Penguin Parade events, both of which feature warm-weather African penguins, as the Aquarium’s world-class penguin offerings.

“If you love penguins, there’s no better place to visit than Newport Aquarium,” Urban said.

Penguin Encounters, offered five times daily, are an unprecedented way to experience penguin life up close and personal. For a nominal surcharge, guests can go behind-the-scenes with an Aquarium biologist and spend time with the African penguins in their own habitat. Guests will get to touch the penguins and get plenty of photos of this memorable experience.

The Penguin Parade is the Aquarium’s unique way to start each day and features Randy, Paula, Simon or any of the other African penguins at the Aquarium. The penguins arrive in their custom-made parade float amidst a ton of fun and fanfare. A biologist who cares for them will share interesting facts about penguins and conservation. And each day, one lucky child will be randomly chosen to be the Parade's Grand Marshall. The parades are free and happen in the Aquarium lobby or on the Newport on the Levee plaza on days when the weather allows for it.

For more information on Newport Aquarium, including hours and pricing, visit http://www.newportaquarium.com or call (859) 261-7444.

Newport Aquarium showcases thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water. You’ll be amazed at all there is to see and do, including fun and interactive activities, like touching a shark or meeting penguins. Newport Aquarium is a Herschend Family Entertainment company (http://www.hfecorp.com) and a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a leader in global wildlife conservation. Newport Aquarium is open to the public 365 days a year and is located only two minutes from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.

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