SeaWorld educator Kaylin Ackerson called Joseph Harrell, 8, from among the second-graders who eagerly awaited the arrival of the penguins.
See a slideshow of the penguin visit
Harrell walked on stage and was placed layer by layer into a penguin costume to show how the birds are adapted to survive in Antarctica. The first step: blubber.
“He needs a nice, thick fat layer,” Ackerson said as penguin keeper Tricia McDeed put a stuffed white sack over Harrel as the children in the crowd laughed.
What goes over the top? she asked them.
“Fur!” children shouted.
Not fur, feathers. McDeed put a black and white suit on Harrell. In the wild, a penguin’s coloring works as camouflage in the water. Flippers, feet and a beak followed.
“...Doesn’t he make a pretty good penguin?” Ackerson asked.
The SeaWorld crew came to Timberlin Creek Elementary School to “just bring more awareness about penguins” and to promote a new penguin exhibit at SeaWorld, said Mari Delgado, associate manager of marketing communications for SeaWorld.
It was the only school stop in the Jacksonville area that the penguins made. The crew performed two 25-minute shows, one for second-graders and another for third-graders, at the school Thursday.
It was the first time penguins had been on campus grounds, said Principal Christine Stephan. The school was contacted by SeaWorld officials who offered a show.
“Of course, we were thrilled,” Stephan said, and the visit was good timing for the children. They are learning about animals and their habitats, and second-graders had already been reading a story about penguins.
The children came prepared for the show — and for some penguin trivia.
Is there more than one type of penguin? Ackerson asked.
“Yeah,” the children shouted.
Actually there are 18 different types of penguins, she said, and cutouts on stage represented a few varieties: the Galapagos penguin, Gentoo penguin, yellow-eyed penguin and the crested penguin.
“He kind of looks like he’s always having a bad hair day,” Ackerson said.
After the warmup show, workers carried Penny and Pete from backstage onto the auditorium floor and placed them in front of the children. The penguins were nearly close enough to touch. As Pete and Penny waddled around, shook their wings and ruffled their feathers, the children stared, stood up to get a closer look, pointed and laughed.
And they got to ask a few questions about the pair.
How old are they? Pete is 4 years old and Penny is “pushing 15,” McDeed said.
How can you tell if it’s male or female? A DNA test of the feathers.
After the questioning, Penny and Pete headed back to their kennels.
“All right, well, Pete and Penny, I think it’s time for you guys to get going,” Ackerson said. “So wave goodbye, say goodbye.”