We all know that there's something irresistible about a waddling penguin. But who knew that some species are facing extinction due to the changing climate and to commercial fishing practices? In honor of Penguin Awareness Day, we've rounded up three great spots that not only offer spectacular views of penguins, but also offer unique educational opportunities and do important preservation work.
For the ultimate up-close-and-personal encounter, visit the Magellenic penguins of Argentina's Isla Marillo; they're extremely friendly. They make up the bulk of the 10,000 penguins who nest on the island from October through early April...
To walk into the rookery, head to PiraTours, the only operator certified to bring groups onto the island itself. Others may only sail by. Tours begin with an engaging lesson about the penguins and their Patagonian habitat on a 90-minute bus ride from Ushuaia, and a 15-minute boat ride to the island. Once you disembark, you'll have to stay on specific paths to minimize disturbance, but the penguins will often waddle right up to visitors.
After checking out the penguins' nesting burrows from an elevated bluff, head to the Acatushún Museum – a marine biology research center with a skeleton exhibit hall and laboratory tours. This research center is what makes the experience possible in the first place, so it's worth a short visit. Tours are $95 and take about six hours.
No time for a big trip abroad? Stateside, the New England Aquarium in Boston takes its 85 penguins and education programs seriously. In fact, it has an entire blog dedicated to penguins, chock full of tidbits on penguin breeding and behavior, and behind-the-scenes photos of the aquarium's related projects. Onsite, aquarium staff open up two feedings and hold two presentations daily. Discussion topics include the fuzzy birds' eating and sleeping patterns, and the bands on their wings.
At all other times, the aquarium's penguins can be found swimming and hopping around the first level of the newly expended Giant Ocean Tank. Following a $17.8 million renovation, this tank reopened in July and contains a whopping 200,000 gallons of water. New to the penguin exhibit are 14 adorable little blues – the smallest penguin species in the world.
If you're concerned about the well-being of animals in captivity, rest assured. The New England Aquarium penguins are actually a part of an accredited Species Survival Plan, a breeding program that's helping to keep the penguin genetic pool as diverse as possible. General admission is $25.95 for adults and $17.95 for children ages 3 to 11.
An hour and a half from Melbourne, Phillips Island hosts the second largest breeding penguin colony in the world. The nature park offers nine different ticket options for its famed sunset Penguin Parade, when little blue penguins return to their beachside breeding grounds after a day of fishing.
General viewing tickets start at$23.80, while a small upgrade gets you to a closer viewing area for $46. For a more educational experience, spring for front-row parade seats and the company of a private ranger, or a behind-the-scenes tour with front-row seats, both for $74. Want to make it extra memorable? Spring for the $84.20 Ultimate Adventure package, which takes a cozy group of 10 to a secluded beach area on an accredited eco tour complete with headsets and "night vision scopes."
Arrive early to explore the park's free attractions, including the Nobbies Centre, which focuses on fur seals and includes beaches, boardwalks, and walking trails where you might find a stray penguin wandering about. For more information, the park's penguin app includes penguin facts, educational games, tips for watching the parade, tools for finding the best viewing spots, and a live burrow cam.