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Niagara Falls aquarium plans major upgrade to penguin exhibit

NIAGARA FALLS – The Humboldt penguin, a threatened species of penguins, lives in warm waters in Peru and Chile, and also in a small colony in the Aquarium of Niagara.

But the mostly geriatric colony of seven penguins in Niagara Falls, where more than half are over the median life expectancy of 17, are threatened unless the aquarium makes major upgrades, Executive Director Gary Siddall said.

That’s the reason behind the “Save Our Penguins” campaign.

Over the past two years, the Aquarium of Niagara has received from New York State and others $2.3 million of the $3.2 million needed to upgrade the penguin exhibit. It is now seeking nearly $1 million from the public in the campaign.

“Our penguins are aging and no longer able to produce viable offspring,” said Siddall.

“It makes me so upset when I come here with my 5-year-old son,” said Nicholas D’Angelo a member of the aquarium’s capital campaign committee. “No new birds have been born here in 10 years.”

Siddall said the aquarium is unable to acquire new birds from the zoological community until it raises the standard of its exhibit and becomes accredited.

“This campaign is to save our penguins and make sure they have a future,” he said.

The Aquarium of Niagara is one of only 20 facilities in the United States and Canada where Humboldt penguins are housed.

The project will enable the facility to become accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquarium, participate in breeding programs and partner with other institutions.

The funds will be used to nearly quadruple the current 450-square-foot enclosure, giving the tuxedo-clad, flightless birds a new home and the public a new viewing experience. The aquarium plans to increase its penguin flock from seven to more than 20 after the upgrade.

The new 3,500-square-foot exhibit will include 1,600 square feet of living space for the birds. It is expected to be completed by 2018.

Visitors will experience what it might be like to visit Humboldt penguins in their rocky homes of Peru or Chile, standing on the beach to view the birds.

The back of the naturalistic seascape will have nesting areas for the birds. The public will be able to approach the glass to see the penguins on the beach and will also be able to see the birds gliding underwater. There will also be educational programming space, an interactive classroom space, and treatment areas.

Siddall told The Buffalo News that about 270,000 visitors have come to the aquarium in 2016. Last year, about 290,000 people visited the facility. Siddall said he hopes a new penguin exhibit would attract greater numbers.

“We expect to see a vivid peak in our attendance once our project is launched,” he told the News.

The aquarium will remain open during construction and viewing panels will let people watch the progress of the new exhibit, said Siddall.

State Sen. Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said it was important to keep attractions like the Aquarium viable because it is a year-round attractions. Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster agreed, calling the Aquarium of Niagara Falls, not just a city attraction, but a Western New York attraction, with an educational component, that everyone needs to get behind.

Donations to the Aquarium of Niagara Falls can be made in person at the Aquarium, 701 Whirlpool St., online at AquariumofNiagara.org or at gofundme.com/saveourpenguins.

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