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Penguin Beach

Robert Webster, the Zoo’s curator of birds, talks about Penguin Beach, the new penguin exhibit scheduled to open in the first half of 2014.


A visitor path weaves right through Penguin Beach, offering close-up encounters with the animals.

Penguin Beach offers visitor viewing from three levels, plus all around the exhibit and even through the exhibit. Note the three floor-to-ceiling panels on the right-hand side of this image, which give visitors a remarkable view of the animals.

Eventually, when the Aquarium reopens in 2015, you’ll be able to go from the Aquarium (depicted in the lower right-hand corner of this image) directly to Penguin Beach. The three floor-to-ceiling panels are on the left-hand side of this image, near a foliage-draped arbor.

Penguin Beach continues the Zoo's commitment to offer dynamic visitor experiences with conservation-centered animal care.

Learn more about African penguins at the Zoo's Animal Fact Pages.

Adopt a penguin! Through the Zoo PAL program you'll learn more about the Zoo's penguins (and you'll get a nifty gift package, too, including a frame-worthy adoption certificate with a photo of your adopted penguin).

Better for visitors

One of the first things you’ll notice is the new location, adjacent to the Aquarium (which is currently being renovated). Interestingly, this site is close to one of the Zoo’s early penguin exhibits – read more about that here.

Another key change is the enhanced visitor viewing all through Penguin Beach. You’ll see penguins from three different levels: above (at an Aquarium platform and from the playground near the Aquarium), at ground level (around the exhibit and the path through the exhibit) and underwater.

Robert Webster says this is a huge improvement over what visitors have experienced in the past. The current exhibit offers mostly elevated viewing from several feet away, and its underwater viewing is difficult for wheelchairs and strollers to access.

By contrast, Robert says, “what we’re doing with Penguin Beach is creating a whole wall of underwater viewing.” On one side of the exhibit, three floor-to-ceiling panels make you feel like you are underwater with the penguins -- similar to the Zoo’s popular Arctic Encounter exhibit (check out video of the harbor seal and polar bear exhibits for comparison).

Better for birds

Excellent care is important for every animal exhibit at the Zoo, and this is another area where Penguin Beach shines. While the square footage of the new exhibit is comparable to the animals’ current space, its stimulating environment in a naturalistic setting sets it apart.

This starts with the water, as you might expect from a space for animals that spend part of their time swimming.

“Penguins love moving water, and there will be a lot more movement in the water at Penguin Beach,” Robert says, explaining that a gentle “wave pool” will mimic ocean conditions the birds would encounter in the wild. “This will make it more interesting for the birds and for visitors.”

But African penguins also spend a lot of time on land, so enhancing the beach area is important, too. This includes a mix of substrates -- from pebbles to sand to Gunite (a rock-like substance) – which create more variety underfoot.

Land and water meet at more than just the beach’s edge. One end of the exhibit features a waterfall that leads to a shallow stream meandering through part of Penguin Beach. “This means there will be a ‘splash zone’ for some penguin foot-splashing,” Robert explains with a laugh.

Behind the scenes

Some other parts of Penguin Beach may go unnoticed by visitors, but these are factors that will play a big role in the Zoo’s conservation efforts for African penguins. They include on-site quarantine facilities, expanded holding space and a focus on reproduction.

“Penguin Beach will be more conducive to breeding than our current exhibit,” Robert says. The Zoo has not raised penguin chicks since the early 1990s, and with African penguins listed as an endangered species, it’s important to ensure healthy, genetically diverse zoo populations.

The Zoo also supports wildlife conservation around the world, including African penguins, through its Conservation Today program.


As with any exhibit opening, the big questions are when does it open and when will penguins go off exhibit for the move.

Penguin Beach's Grand Opening is scheduled for the late spring or early summer of 2014. The penguins will start moving from their current exhibit in late March, 2014.

Robert is one of many people at the Zoo who are looking forward to the opening of Penguin Beach, both for the visitor experience and the enhanced opportunities for the birds.

“People will be able to see them up close and truly in their element," he says. "Penguins may not be able to fly, but visitors will see them ‘fly underwater.’”


Be a part of Penguin Beach. Donation and sponsorship opportunities are available for this exciting project. To learn more, contact Mary Fedderke at mary.fedderke@toledozoo.org, or call her at 419.385.5721, ext. 2074.



Above: This image shows the view of Penguin Beach from the playground, offering the Zoo’s youngest visitors an
opportunity to see the animals as they explore and play nearby.

Banner photo, top of page: harbor seal. Photo: Bill Oliver




For more information about any of the Zoo’s programs or services, please call 419.385.5721 or visit toledozoo.org.

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