What looks like a gigantic iceberg jutting up from the grounds of the Detroit Zoo is the new home of 83 gentoo, king, macaroni and rockhopper penguins. But the outside of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center is only a teaser to the icy adventure within.
The habitat – a 33,000-square-foot space at the front of the zoo – opens April 18 and will be “the largest penguin facility in the world,” says communications director Patricia Mills Janeway. Inspired by Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous Antarctic expedition in the early 1900s, this immersive experience mimics the “harsh, visceral ice world” of Antarctica, Janeway notes. As they venture inside, visitors are met with 360-degree 4D effects of polar blasts, snow and waves.
A huge feature is the 25-foot-deep tank filled with 326,000 gallons of water. “Our guests will be able to see the penguins deep dive, which is something they do in the wild but we don’t see it,” Janeway says. “Even in the wild, you can’t see that.”
And that cool underwater tunnel over at the polar bear exhibit? Find two here, providing views of the sleek birds underwater. In summer, kids can enjoy a splash play area just outside; in winter, that area will transform into a skating rink.
The center, in the works for years, was announced in September 2013, Janeway says. It replaces the 1960s penguinarium, slated to become a bat conservation center. “An incredible amount of research has gone into the development of the penguin center,” she adds, including penguin keepers going into the wild and observing the penguins. “The end result will be a very authentic.”
Polk Penguin Conservation Center
- Address: Detroit Zoo, 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, Royal Oak
- Phone: 248-541-5717
- Opening: Monday, April 18
- Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily April 1-Sept. 5 (till 8 p.m. Wednesdays July-August), 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily Sept. 6-March 31
- Cost: Free with admission: $14/ages 15-plus, $10/2-14 and 62-plus, free/under 2, $6/parking (timed entry passes required; first come, first served on day of visit)