Smile and wave, boys! Penguins take over Cape Town aquarium

Business Insider SA
Two Oceans Aquarium.
Jasmin the rockhopper penguin comes face to face with a ragged-tooth shark in the Predator Exhibit. Photo Ayrton King/Two Oceans Aquarium.
  • During lockdown, the penguins at the Two Oceans Aquarium have been allowed to explore parts of the premises that were previously off limits to them.
  • They have met sharks, and a molesnake - and one loves staring longingly at fish in a tank for long stretches of time. 
  • Another has accurately predicted that government would extend phase one of the lockdown by two weeks. 
  • For more stories go to

The penguins at the Two Oceans Aquarium, in Cape Town, are enjoying their newfound freedom thanks to South Africa’s lockdown.

While they won’t be making a break for Madagascar anytime soon, they have been allowed to explore spaces that would previously have been inaccessible to them with hundreds of visitors about.

Two Oceans Aquarium.
Ayrton King with the Two Oceans Aquarium penguins exploring new spaces. Photo Ayrton King/Two Oceans Aquarium.

Animal keeper Ayrton King, who looks after the penguins in the aquarium, has captured their adventures through photographs and video. 

One of the penguins has taken to gazing longingly at a fish tank for long stretches of time, while others enjoy watching sharks more. 

King initially shared his photos and video with friends and family. Recently, he started publishing the clips on his Instagram page

“I realised it was cheering me up... so why not share it with other people. I’ve been getting so many positive questions from all over the world,” said King.

“Now that we are under lockdown, we get a lot more time to interact with the birds and can take them to different areas to see how they react to different things and experience textures as well,” King said.

“Lockdown allows us to do more behavioural observations.  You can sit in the exhibit and see how the birds react to one another and see how they are reacting in their environment, which is very difficult when you’ve got visitors coming through.”

WATCH: Penguins on the loose in SA’s empty streets

The aquarium, which is privately owned by the V&A Waterfront, has been closed since March 18.

A skeleton crew of staff have been providing food and and veterinary care to the animals, Michael Farquhar, CEO of the Two Oceans Aquarium, told Business Insider South Africa.

“Their dedication to the animals and the building is hugely appreciated by the rest of the staff, who are stuck at home and quite jealous,” said Farquhar.

Two Oceans Aquarium.
Rockhopper penguins on walkabout during lockdown. Photo Ayrton King/Two Oceans Aquarium.

The penguins require feeding three times a day and, unlike South Africans, even get to exercise in the afternoons.

Here are some of their recent adventures: 

Meeting ragged-tooth sharks

Two Oceans Aquarium.
Caption: Jasmin the rockhopper penguin comes face to face with a ragged-tooth shark in the Predator Exhibit. Photo Ayrton King/Two Oceans Aquarium.

The penguins have frequently visited the aquarium's predator exhibit, where rescued ragged-tooth sharks are rehabilitated before being released back into the wild once mature

Inspecting the premises

On their daily walkabouts, the penguins have been roaming the aquarium to investigate areas previously off limits to them.

Two Oceans Aquarium.
Photo Ayrton King/Two Oceans Aquarium.

They have also surveyed the cleaning of tanks:

Two Oceans Aquarium.
Acting-CEO Hopper, together with health and safety inspectors Clax and Chippy give the Kelp Forest Exhibit their official approval. Photo Ayrton King/Two Oceans Aquarium.

Some have preferred doing short sprint training over group-based activities:  

They’ve found some interesting creatures along the way, like Harry, the resident molesnake.

Little EL, a rockhopper penguin, has taken quite a liking to watching fish:  

Oracle Alex has predicted government's lockdown decisions

Alex, a rockhopper penguin, has demonstrated some surprising skills in predicting key decisions made by government during lockdown: 

Nothing quite beats a fresh dip after a long walk: 

They even got up to some egg hunting over Easter:

Fans of the aquarium can help keep operations running smoothly during lockdown by buying a ticket or annual membership now, which can be redeemed when it reopens. Donations can also be made to the not-for-profit Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, which is responsible for some of the education, conservation and research work that the aquarium is involved in.

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