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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Bring a penguin to school?

Mystic Aquarium Education Outreach Program Offers next best thing

At its core, Mystic Aquarium strives to provide unique experiential learning opportunities to help connect the public to ocean conservation; especially children.  

One of the most important conservation efforts ongoing at Mystic Aquarium involves the endangered African penguin. With years of experience with Distance Learning programs, in 2017, Mystic Aquarium realized that fostering important connections to African penguins and their conservation did not have to stop at the front gate.

Mystic Aquarium unveiled a new platform in conservation education with outreach programs to bring penguins directly into classrooms across the country.  Penguin Palooza is a webchat that allows for real-time discussion of all things African penguin.  

The Penguin Conservation Ambassador Program provides the opportunity for children to meet a penguin ambassador right in their own school.

Through collaboration between penguin trainers and the Aquarium’s Education staff, African penguins became even greater ambassadors as part of the STEM education programs for students of all ages.  

The traveling program is available to interested schools within a 60-mile radius of Mystic Aquarium, whose facility can meet a set of strict criteria for animal welfare.  In 2017 alone, Over 1700 students participated in these two programs.

“While I may be a bit biased,” said Eric Fox, one of Mystic Aquarium’s Penguin Trainers, “there is no better, more charismatic animal to help facilitate the connection to conservation than through the African penguin.”

From adaptations, husbandry training and species conservation, students are able to immerse themselves in Mystic Aquarium’s Roger Tory Peterson Penguin Pavilion through the use of mobile technology. 

For the first time, students from all over the country were learning by direct interaction with the staff that works with African penguins every day.

With penguin welfare at the forefront of all travel, the Penguin Conservation Ambassador Program is a multimedia experience with a variety of interactive presentations designed to engage students anywhere from Kindergarten to college. 

In 2018, this program will also be expanded to include elder care and rehabilitation facilities.  During this hour-long program, an array of topics related to African penguin natural history, husbandry and preservation are covered- all with a live penguin ambassador as the star. Age appropriate demonstrations and hands-on activities encourage students to take an active role in ocean conservation. 

This program is a small part of Mystic Aquarium’s mission to connect children and families to nature in meaningful and engaging ways with the fundamental goal of educating and inspiring future generations as stewards of our ocean planet.

The African penguin, while one of the most popular species at Mystic Aquarium, is also at the highest risk of extinction in the animal kingdom. Mystic Aquarium works collaboratively to help reverse the devastating trend in African penguin populations through everything from research and field conservation with international colleagues to world-class animal care and onsite genetics studies and breeding programs to public awareness and engagement programs.

“Visits alone create connections,” said MaryEllen Mateleska, Director of Education & Conservation. “But educational programming allows participants to experience a deeper personal connection with animals. Public outreach and education is one of the most valuable ways in which Mystic Aquarium promotes conservation.” 

Mystic Aquarium believes unequivocally that these programs not only foster conservation-minded citizens of the future but also help to develop a lifelong passion for learning.

Distance Learning has been part of the educational experience for over a decade.  Topics for Kindergarten through grade 5 include Amazing Reptile Adaptations, Rocky Shore Exploration and Adaptations, Sharks!  and Beautiful Belugas. Topics for grades 6-12 include Career Exploration, Sustainable Fishing, Comparative Evolution, Endangered Ecosystems, Marine Mammals and Animal training and more. 

For more information on Penguin Palooza, Penguin Conservation Ambassador Program and all Distance Learning, visit