Home Swim wears Little Blue Penguins make their San Diego debut at the Birch Aquarium

Little Blue Penguins make their San Diego debut at the Birch Aquarium


From left, Vice Chancellor for Marine Science and Director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Margaret Leinen, Assemblyman Tasha Boerner Horvath (District 76), Mayor Todd Gloria, National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis , San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava (District 1), Harry Helling, Executive Director of the Birch Aquarium, and Jenn Moffatt, Senior Director of Animal Care, Science and Conservation.

Excitement filled the air at the Birch Aquarium at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography today as the first official guests gathered to discover Little blue penguins from the Beyster familythe newest and most anticipated exhibit in the history of the aquarium.

Harry Helling, general manager of the Birch Aquarium; Margaret Leinen, vice chancellor for marine science and director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography; San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria; National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis; with other San Diego elected officials; and musicians from the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory, joined in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the official opening of this immersive habitat, the only one of its kind on the West Coast.

During the ceremony, Gloria officially declared July 12, 2022, “Little Blue Penguin Day” in the city of San Diego in honor of these charismatic seabirds.

“San Diego residents, myself included, have had many memorable moments at Birch Aquarium, and I’m sure there will be many more after today’s opening,” said Gloria. “This amazing new space will allow the aquarium to attract even more guests from across the county and beyond, and inspire them to protect the wonders of our ocean.”

In Little blue penguins from the Beyster family, guests come face-to-face with the little blue penguins as they waddle, swim and glide through their new home. The 2,900 square foot habitat includes an 18,000 gallon swimming pool, several cozy burrows, a sandy beach and native plants that mimic the coast of Australia and New Zealand, where these penguins can be found at the wild state. As guests enter the exhibit, they are immersed in the world of Little Blues; learn from the interpretive panels how they can help protect penguins and our ocean.


The 2,900 square foot habitat features an 18,000 gallon swimming pool, several cozy burrows, and native plants that mimic the coast of Australia and New Zealand.

Additionally, the habitat further explores the interdisciplinary penguin research conducted by Scripps Oceanography scientists Jerry Kooyman, Paul Ponganis, and Tammy Russell. Their findings on penguin physiology gave Scripps a better understanding of the biology of these aquatic seabirds and the impact of climate change on penguins.

“We are delighted to introduce the new Little blue penguins from the Beyster family in San Diego. Our team has worked diligently to design and develop a new state-of-the-art facility for this amazing seabird species,” said Executive Director Harry Helling. “Penguins are great indicators of environmental change in the ocean and will help Birch Aquarium better connect understanding to protecting our ocean planet.”

Not all penguins live in snow and ice. Little blue penguins reside in the coastal dunes and rocky shores of southern Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand in a climate similar to that of San Diego. The little bruises are about a foot tall and weigh 2 to 3 pounds; they are known for their unique blue color and big personalities.

“We are thrilled to welcome this colony of 15 penguins to our Birch family,” said Kayla Strate, Lead Penguin Aquarist. “The birds are happy, thriving and adapting well to their new surroundings. Eventually, we hope the penguins will form a successful breeding colony.

Each penguin in the exhibit wears a colored wing stripe, which helps staff and guests quickly tell one bird from another. Azulito, who got his name after an online naming campaign in June, wears a blue headband. Six other penguins in the exhibit have been given names through philanthropic donations: Magic, Nero, Persimmon, Reka, Cornelius, and Katie.

The little blue penguins are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) collaborative international program called Species Survival Plans (SSP). Each SSP program coordinates the individual activities of participating member institutions across a variety of species, research, breeding, management, and educational initiatives.

Although penguins are common in zoos and aquariums, only a handful of AZA institutions have little blue penguins, including Dallas World Aquarium, Bronx Zoo, Adventure Aquarium, Louisville Zoo and the Cincinnati Zoo.

“It can be their waddles or their graceful swimming. Whatever the reason, penguins have a knack for capturing our hearts,” said Jim Beyster. “We are proud to support Birch Aquarium’s mission to shed light on the survival challenges little blue penguins face in the wild along with other seabird species.”


The Birch Aquarium is the only aquarium on the west coast to house little blue penguins.

In addition to a $1 million donation from the Beyster family, generous donations were also received from Stephen M. Strachan to name the pool habitat, Wendy W. Kwok to name the amphitheater and the one of our penguins, Julia R. Brown to name the Penguin Survival System, and Katherine and Mathew McGee to name the Children’s Discovery Portal.

John and Gail Eyler, Colin and Ellen Kennedy, Miranda Ko and Jared Cui and the Phillips Widroe family are other philanthropic supporters of our penguin naming campaign. Birch Aquarium also thanks the following exhibit sponsors: Gisela Hill, Las Patronas, Qualcomm, Sonos and Laurette Verbinski. These donations contributed to the campaign for UC San Diego, which ended June 30, 2022 and raised a total of $3 billion. KPBS is the official media sponsor of Little blue penguins from the Beyster family.

For those who cannot visit the aquarium in person, they can still see the little blue penguins through a new live penguin webcam launched today. Little blue penguins from the Beyster family is included in the general admission price to Birch Aquarium which is $24.95 for adults and $19.95 for children ages 3-17. Annual subscriptions are also available. Advance reservations are required for all guests, including members. Visit aquarium.ucsd.edu for more information or to book.