Penguins at Shedd Aquarium gain celebrity status, become animal ambassadors during pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Shedd Aquarium's lovable penguins - led by Wellington the elderly rockhopper - became global animal ambassadors during the COVID-19 pandemic when videos of their walking tours around Chicago went viral.

"I've been working with the penguins for 17 years," said Lana Gonzales, manager of penguins and sea otters. "And believe me, they never get old."

Shedd penguins have always gone on excursions outside of their habitat on 'field trips' for mental stimulation and physical exercise. When Shedd was closed to the public during the height of the pandemic in Chicago, the penguins were able to have those adventures more often.

Wellington, a 33-year-old southern rockhopper, was the first Shedd penguin to reach celebrity status after hundreds of thousands of people on Instagram saw him meeting other aquarium animals.

"When we first posted that video of Wellington in the Amazon, everyone just went bananas," Gonzales said. "I think seeing the penguins in a role that the guests usually are is really fascinating to everyone."

Throughout 2020, before Shedd reopened to the public, Magellanic penguins got to travel to cultural sites throughout Chicago, including Soldier Field, the Field Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

While Wellington has gained status as the elder statesman of the penguins, guests will soon be able to meet three new penguin chicks born at Shedd in the past year. As soon as those chicks mature, get ready to see them in surprising new places.

'Meet the Penguins' is episode two of of 'An Ocean On The Lake,' the multi-part behind-the-scenes series from ABC 7 Chicago and Shedd Aquarium. Watch this second part and get to know all of Shedd's rockhopper and Magellanic penguins. Find every episode on our homepage for "An Ocean On The Lake," or watch on our ABC 7 Chicago connected TV App.
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