When Shedd Aquarium staff heard their doors were closing to the public, they jumped into action. They wanted to show that the team is still working — still taking care of animals and assisting with animal rescue operations.
Enter one of the cutest penguins the internet has ever seen: Wellington.
Penguins in the Amazon?! 🐧🌴— Shedd Aquarium (@shedd_aquarium) March 15, 2020
Some of the penguins went on a field trip to meet other animals at Shedd. Wellington seemed most interested in the fishes in Amazon Rising! The black-barred silver dollars also seemed interested in their unusual visitor. pic.twitter.com/KgYWsp5VQD
With a black-and-white waddle and a curious look on his face, this Rockhopper has taken over the Shedd Aquarium — and the internet with it — in a series of viral social media posts exploring the aquarium’s empty hallways and exhibits.
“I'm a fan myself ... seeing that I've watched it maybe a million times, over and over again,” said Carly Hill, social media manager at Shedd and one of the people managing the campaign. “It's very, very cute.”
The idea behind the videos was truly a collaborative effort, Hill said, involving the animal care, public relations, marketing and social media teams.
And the effort has paid off. One of Shedd’s Facebook posts reached 8 million views alone, outranking the Shedd’s sea otter who rose to fame last year, Hill said. The story has been picked up by media outlets all over the county and followed by people from as far away as Australia. A school in Spain has even started using the videos as a part of their virtual curriculum.
“It was so awesome to see us connecting with these young fans, because that's how I started,” Hill said. “I am seeing my own excitement in them.”
For Hill, the response to the posts are a sign that people are craving joy in a chaotic time.
“You have an overwhelming amount of people saying, ‘Thank you. Just thank you so much for sharing this. I needed this. This is getting me through quarantine. This is getting me through the stress of the news,’ ” Hill said. “There's a real appetite right now for just positivity.”
What some may not realize is that the penguins have always taken field trips; this is just the first time Shedd is letting the public in on their avian adventures.
Time for a polar field trip! 🐧🐳❄️ Penguins Tilly and near-yearling Carmen came face to face with beluga Kayavak. Not all penguins live in super cold regions. Magellanic penguins like Tilly and Carmen are temperate-weather birds. pic.twitter.com/oDZUL1NIG1— Shedd Aquarium (@shedd_aquarium) March 29, 2020
“It provides [the penguins] with kind of a nice enrichment for their day,” Hill said. “[But now] they have a lot more space to explore and a lot more kind of breathing room.”
Hill’s favorite social video? Wellington at Wild Reef.
“That habitat is so beautiful. ... They have such an interesting way of moving, Rockhoppers. Typically, they hop as their name suggests,” Hill said. “And to see kind of all the other penguins exploring right behind him, it made my day.”
She added: “I get just as much joy sharing these videos as people get out of watching them.”
Mary Hall is a digital producer at WBEZ. Follow her @hall_marye. Lauren Frost, an audio producer at WBEZ, produced this story for broadcast.