BOSTON, Massachusetts — Walking through the New England Aquarium in Boston is almost a rite of passage for kids in Maine. Just a few hours away, it's a chance to see sea creatures up close in their enclosures. When the pandemic closed its doors to the public, though, staff at the aquarium had to get creative.
While they've reopened with new guidelines, you can still get an up close and personal experience at the aquarium without even leaving your home. Virtual Animal Encounters allow you to live stream with trainers and aquarists like Amanda Barr, who spoke with us while standing in the Penguin Colony at the aquarium.
"It just gives us an opportunity to be able to interact with the public when they are not ready to come out yet," says Barr. "For the marine mammals they do a training session, talk about why and how we train, and how we can help protect all of our animals in the ocean and out in their native habitats."
The aquarium was closed for about four months through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has recently reopened to the public. While video went viral from an aquarium in Chicago, of penguins roaming the empty halls, Barr says they didn't feel as comfortable letting their own penguins do the same. "They haven’t really experienced much outside of our exhibit here, so we didn’t think it was something they were quite ready for," Barr explains. "It might be a little overwhelming for them; it might be a little too overstimulating for them at this point."
The penguins certainly acknowledged Barr's presence in their colony, some swimming right up to her; others watching her to see what she might be doing there. "They usually know that with our presence comes food so usually when we get in we’re either feeding them or cleaning up after them or both, so they usually know that when we get in it’s almost time for them to eat, so they’re usually pretty excited to see us."
Barr shared her favorite fact about the African Penquin, "They have that band across their chest, and under that they have a patch of spots. Each of their spot patterns is unique to each one of them - just like our fingerprints are unique to each one of us. Some of them have a lot of spots, some of them don’t have very many spots, also their spots form a specific pattern that makes them really easy to identify. We have one penguin who’s band and spots form together to make a heart."
To learn more about the New England Aquarium's Virtual Animal Encounters, click here.