SeaWorld penguins stir up a buzz in Star newsroom ... Ballplayers head to Oz
Want a sure way to make friends in your workplace? Bring in some penguins.
Yeah, it's probably not something you can do unless you're a travel editor at a major newspaper. And there aren't many of those jobs around, I guess. But it's still a cool thing to have visitors from Sea World in Orlando descend on your office for a promotional visit and bring in a couple of small and absolutely adorable guests.
The folks from Sea World have a new exhibit opening in May called Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, where folks will be able to interact with several types of penguins in a natural-like area and feel the cold and smell the birds and all. There also will be a ride/attraction with some educational components to help visitors learn about penguins and their social habits.
I was told in advance by a contact of mine that they'd be bringing the birds in this week, but I wasn't sure if they were allowed out of their cages or what the deal was. A guy at our security desk at 1 Yonge St. called up when the guests arrived on Thursday and said, "I take it they're not being let loose in the newsroom," or words to that effect.
I said I didn't think so, given that we had a live reindeer do its business in the Editor's office prior to Christmas. Up they came in the elevator in a covered cage.
T.J., the bird's handler, suggested they be let loose in a place where cleanup would be, um, easier than on the newsroom carpeting, so we headed to the linoleum floor of the lunchroom. Pretty soon word got out that I had some visitors and folks started rolling in to see Pete and Penny, each mature Magellanic penguins from the straits of Magellan in South America.
"Oh my God," they shrieked. "They're so CUTE!!!"
Pete and Penny strolled casually around the lunchroom for a bit, then spotted a small, dark area under the sink. They made what penguins might think of as a bee-line for the space; probably, I was told, because it seemed like one of their burrows. One of the penguins started a digging motion on the linoleum, which was awfully cool. I'm not quite sure, but it looked like they were trying to make out a little bit, too, which was even more adorable.
T.J. managed to get one of them to let out a good, raucous penguin shout, the likes of which I'd never heard before. It was a barking, loud, coughing like shout that one reporter said sounded like a miniature Chewbacca from Star Wars.
There IS something undeniably wonderful about penguins. Maybe, as Julie Scardina of SeaWorld told me, it's because they stand upright like we do. I'd never thought of it, but she's probably right. I think the tuxedos help a lot in making them seem more human than, say, a cardinal or a duck or an eagle, as well. And that adorable waddle is great, as you can see by the great video that Star man Scott Simmie put together Thursday on about 23 seconds notice.
With the lunchroom crowd starting to get out of hand, I went to the Star's managing editor and asked if the penguins could tour the carpeted newsroom. She quickly ascented, so we opened the doors. T.J. picked up one of the penguins (I don't know which as I'm not an expert in telling the sex of a penguin at a distance) and started walking to the main newsroom. Because Pete and Penny have been an item for years and years, the other penguin quickly waddled down the hall after T.J. and his/her mate. Which I found adorable.
The penguins made quite a show and I'm sure a few hundred photos were taken in a few short minutes. Lest you think this was cruel or anything, I was assured Magellanic penguins can take a variety of temperatures and are quite social and don't mind being around people or in warm places for a few minutes at a time.
Scardina told me the folks at SeaWorld have learned a ton about penguins over the years and have responded to many penguin emergencies around the world, helping rescue stricken animals after oil spills and other disasters and helping clean them up and establishing feeding programs to help keep them in their natural environment.
I had no idea, but there are 18 types of penguins in the world. Four of them will be on hand in the Antarctica exhibit: Gentoos, Rock Hoppers, Adelies and King penguins.
"We have penguin encounters in our parks but the Antarctica exhibit will be like penguins on steroids," Scardina said with a laugh.
"Our mission is to educate people as well as entertain them," she said. "We want to make it fun for people but also let them know about the animals. We want people to see how they interact, for example."
"Most people don't get a chance to go to Antarctica, so we want them to be able to learn about it," she said.
"This is really about survival," Scardina told me. "Penguins are living in a less and less friendlly world all the time. There's increased competition from humans from fishing and penguins often have to travel twice as far as they used to for food, which means less for their chicks when they get back."
Scardina said 13 of the 18 species of penguins are in decline or are in trouble due to food issues and warmer temperatures in the ocean and changes in normal ocean currents.
As for the Antarctica exhibit, it's the largest expansion in SeaWorld's history.
“There’s nothing else like this in the world,” said Brian Morrow, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment creative director. “Next year, this is the vehicle that will take families on an epic adventure and allow them to experience and interact with the thrills, wonders and dangers of Antarctica, all through the eyes of a very special penguin.”
BALLPLAYERS ON TOUR
An item on travelmole.com says more than 55 visiting American representatives from tourism bureaus and travel/tourism groups will descend on Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane for some Visit USA trade expos in Australia.
"In keeping with the sporting theme of the expos, each is co-sponsored by Major League Baseball, which means travel trade guests can look forward to plenty of ball-slinging fun, designed to recreate the sights, sounds and smells of a baseball game," the report said. "Guests will be welcomed by the aroma of buttery popcorn and the sounds of a jazz band before trying their hand in an inflatable pitching cage, on a Wii console, at ping-pong tables or on a mini-field, where a home run hitting competition will test skill.
"American Baseball League players and mascots will be on hand as well as costumes and a photo booth, so guests can dress up as their favourite player and capture the moment."
No word on what ballplayers will go. Presumably there won't be any Blue Jays, since this is a Visit USA event...