NIAGARA FALLS – Next weekend, the Aquarium of Niagara will have gone to the birds. More precisely, the short, flightless type.
The downtown attraction, at 701 Whirlpool St., will host its 24th annual Penguin Days from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Interactive exhibits and the chance to get an up-close experience with a penguin are among the highlights of the two-day event.
“We turn the aquarium into a penguin celebration,” said Michele Paterson, assistant supervisor of exhibits.
The event, intended for children of all ages, will be hands-on, aimed at making visitors “feel part of the learning experience,” Paterson said.
The interactive exhibits will include teaching children how to clean out a penguin nest and showing how to protect the environment.
The facility will also set up a mock veterinary clinic where children will use stuffed penguins to learn how penguins that swallow marine debris are helped in the wild, she said.
Another aspect of the event will be a mock fish market that will teach about sustainable seafood and making the right shopping choices when buying seafood.
Visitors will also get the chance to “ask a penguin expert” during the up-close sessions with the penguins and their handlers. Those sessions will be held in the second-floor community room.
Throughout the day, there will be a new exhibit starting about every 30 minutes, Paterson said. The rest of the aquarium’s exhibits will be open for visitors, as well. There will also be face-painting and a penguin-drawing contest. The winning photographs of the seventh annual Penguin Days amateur photo contest will also be on display, said Christian Dobosiewicz, special event coordinator.
Proceeds from the face-painting will benefit a rescue and rehabilitation program.
Some changes are ahead for the penguins at the aquarium, which have made a home at the facility since 1978.
There won’t be any Penguin Days next year. That’s because planned renovations and the expansion of the penguin exhibit will be underway and the penguins will be housed off-site during the work. The project is estimated to cost between $2.3 million and $2.5 million.
The new exhibit, with two pools and above and below viewing, will have enough room for up to 25 penguins. The aquarium is currently home to eight Humboldt penguins, the oldest of which will soon be 27 years old.
The expanded exhibit will total between 1,500 and 1,600 square feet, including back-of-the-house space that will include quarantine and husbandry areas, Paterson said.
It will also be equipped with new lighting and low-flow plumbing to increase energy efficiency, she said.
Anyone wishing to support the penguin exhibit project will have the chance to either make a donation or buy a $5 wristband.
Admission for adults is $10.50, with children ages 3 to 12 costing $6.75. Admission for senior citizens is $9.25, and children 2 and under are admitted free. While the event runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., the aquarium will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information, call 285-3575, Ext. 206, or visit www.aquariumofniagara.org.