Welcome to the African penguin colony!
The New England Aquarium’s penguin exhibit is home to more than 70 African and southern rockhopper penguins and contains 150,000 gallons of water filtered in from Boston harbor. This camera is focused on our African penguin colony.
Use of Nest products is not an endorsement by the New England Aquarium.
Daily Feeding Times:
Watch our biologists feed the penguins! They are fed a variety of different fish, including capelin, herring, lake smelt, anchovies, and sardines twice a day.
9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many penguins are there at the New England Aquarium?
There are more than 70 penguins at the New England Aquarium between two species: African penguins and southern rockhopper penguins.
How cold is the water in the exhibit?
All 150,000 gallons of water are filtered in from Boston Harbor, so the temperature varies day to day. Throughout the year, the water usually stays between 55 and 62 degrees Fahrenheit (12.7 and 16.6 degrees Celsius).
How long do penguins live?
Depending on the species, penguins can live between 12-20 years in their native environments. However, this can be much longer in zoos and aquariums. At the New England Aquarium, there have been penguins who have lived into their 40s. This is thanks to excellent veterinarian care, lack of predators, and a staple diet of fish every day provided by aquarists.
What do penguins eat?
Penguins eat fish, krill, and squid. At the New England Aquarium, our penguins are provided with five different fish through the week: capelin, herring, lake smelt, anchovies, and sardines. They are fed twice a day at 9:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. They are hand-fed by staff and are able to eat as much as they like because they are good at self-regulating.
Where is the ice and snow?
Most penguin species are actually temperate species, meaning that they live in climates much like Boston’s climate: hot summers and cold winters. African penguins are from the coastlines of South Africa, Namibia, and the surrounding islands off the coasts, where they would be found on sandy and rocky beaches.
Why do some of the African penguins look different?
Some of our African penguins have a grey coloration. This is their juvenile coat of feathers, which is their first coat of waterproof feathers. After about 18-24 months, they will undergo their first “catastrophic molt,” during which they lose their juvenile feathers as their new adult feathers push them out.
Do all of the penguins have names?
Yes! All of our penguins have names, and all of their names have educational meanings based on their species or related to penguins in general.
For example: the penguin with the blue and white bracelet on his left wing is named Good Hope, named after the Cape of Good Hope where African penguins have a breeding colony.
How much do penguins weigh?
The penguins you can see (African penguins) weigh between 5 and 8 lbs. Emperor Penguins (the largest species of penguin) weigh 80-90 lbs, while the smallest species (little penguins) only weigh 2-3 lbs.
Where are all the penguins?
Most penguins spend 75-80 percent of their time at sea in their native environments. After feeds, it is usually swim time for our penguins.
While the birds are swimming, you may see the staff climb up onto the islands and hand scrub them. All of the islands are hosed and scrubbed every day and then cleaned with a veterinary disinfectant to make sure that the area is clean and healthy for all of our animals.
Why do the same penguins stand in the same spots?
Penguins spend a lot of time defending their territories. You may even see a territorial dispute or a courtship display between bonded pairs of penguins.
Where did the penguins come from?
All of our penguins here at the New England Aquarium were born and raised in human care and have either grown up here or have come to us from another accredited institution. We are part of what is called a Species Survival Plan, or SSP. The SSP is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and gives recommendations for breeding pairs that are the most genetically valuable. Doing this helps to achieve the most genetic variability possible for the species, which also is important to sustain each species as far into the future as we possibly can.
Why are penguins black and white?
The typical black and white coloration of penguins is actually an extremely important method of camouflage called counter shading. If a penguin is in the water and a predator is swimming or flying above it, the black back of the penguin helps it to blend in with the dark ocean below and makes it harder to be seen. If something is swimming below a penguin, the white stomach of the penguin blends in with the bright sky above, making it equally as hard to be seen from that direction.
Are they endangered?
Yes, African penguins are classified as endangered. It is estimated that there are less than 50,000 of them left in their native environments of South Africa and Namibia. Their population has decreased by over 90 percent, with 70 percent of that decrease occurring over a 10-year period.
Why are they disappearing?
Unfortunately, the short answer is humans. Human related activity, such as overfishing, climate change, and oil pollution, is having the greatest impact not only on penguins, but also on many other animals in the ocean.
Why are there bracelets on their wings?
Our penguins wear bracelets to help us identify them. Their bracelets here at the New England Aquarium tell us two different things, the gender and the specific bird.
Penguins are not sexually dimorphic, which means you cannot tell males and females apart just by looking at them. We use DNA testing to find out whether or penguins are males or females. Then, we use this information and place the bracelets on opposite wings. So if the penguin has a bracelet on its left wing, it’s a male; if the bracelet is on the right wing, then that penguin is a female. The specific color combinations tell us who each individual bird is. For example, the bird with the pink bracelet on the left wing is one of our male penguins, Pip.
Why are that penguin’s feathers all messed up?
Every year, penguins go through what is called a catastrophic molt. This sounds like a bad thing, but it simply means that penguins lose and replace all of their feathers at the same time, as opposed to a few at a time like most flighted birds do. During this time, penguins do not enter the water to swim because the state of their feathers makes them not waterproof. In the weeks leading up to their molt, the penguins eat extra fish so that they have a fat reserve to live off of during the 2-3 weeks that they are molting and can’t go swimming to hunt for fish.
How do your penguins stay healthy?
A lot of hard work and planning goes into caring for our large, multi-species penguin colony. The penguin biologists work closely with our talented veterinary team to ensure top-notch care for every penguin at the New England Aquarium. You may even catch a glimpse of our staff handling one of the penguins in the exhibit. This is an important component to our routine physical examinations that help to keep each of our penguins in excellent health.