701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, FL 33602
Payment options: Credit cards accepted
More in this neighborhood: Channelside
What you get: If Hollywood has you convinced that all penguins come from the South Pole and love the cold, then check out the aquarium’s eight African black-footed penguins: Sandy, Sunny, Cliff, Rocky, Pebbles, Shelly, Windy and Reef.
The biologist on duty can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about these cute, temperate penguins, also known as Jackass Penguins for the braying sound that they make.
The tours let guests touch the penguins and watch them swim, splash and play in their kiddie pool. You learn that penguins are extremely social animals and love interacting with their handlers and visitors. Each weighs about 7 1/2 pounds and eats 2 pounds of fish a day — more than a quarter of its body weight. You get to watch them swallow fish whole and can peak inside their mouth, which has no teeth but a tongue with spikes on it to prevent slippery fish from sliding out. If you’re lucky, one of the birds will bray.
Did you know? Only 60,000 to 70,000 of these penguins exist in the wild and the breeding of them in captivity is strictly regulated. In early to mid summer, the penguins fatten up like bowling balls and molt their feathers. During those two weeks, the penguins do not eat and are antisocial because they would be vulnerable to predators if in the wild. The aquarium suspends the tours and the penguin promenades through the main exhibit area until the birds’ feathers grow back.
Wow moments: The penguins are incredibly soft, and it’s hard to believe they are covered in feathers not fur. And if you think it’s cute watching a cat play with a toy, check out a penguin batting around a toothbrush.
Tip: It’s not a bad idea to wear closed-toe shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting wet or dirty. Penguins poop every 15 to 20 minutes and can shoot it up to 4 feet. The playful birds also like splashing in their pool.
Is it worth it?: Absolutely. Going on a tour actually helps the penguins stay happy and well-adjusted. They live in huge groups in the wild and love visitors’ interaction and outside stimuli.
Details: The 30-minute tours are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. daily. Maximum eight people. $25 for non-members and $20 for members. Aquarium admission not included.