Detroit Zoo Penguin Habitats to Debut this Spring

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Polk Penquins

Although adorable penguins are impossible to upstage, OTL’s new habitats for the well-loved birds will play a leading role when the 29.5 million dollar Polk Penguin Conservation Center opens this spring at the Detroit Zoo.

For the past 18 months, contractors have been hard at work readying the bird’s new 33,000-square-foot home, which will be the largest penguin habitat in the world. It will host 80 penguins of four species, including Gentoo, Rockhopper, Macaroni, and King.

OTL’s goal is to build the habitat as close to the penguin’s arctic and subarctic environment as possible. OTL’s scope of work included construction of artificial rockwork, ice, and glaciers in the penguin habitat and “dry-side” theming in the visitor galleries. OTL’s creation of artificial mussels, barnacles, and kelp will enhance the habitat’s realism.

According to zoo officials, teams did extensive research on natural penguin habitats and made multiple trips to Antarctica during the project’s two-year planning and design phase. The habitat, designed by Jones & Jones, the architects behind Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Detroit Zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life and numerous additional exhibits recognized for nature-driven design, is intended to encourage the penguins to behave as they would in the wild, including diving, nesting, and mating.

The exhibit will include a 326,000-gallon aquatic area with a 25-foot ‘deep-dive,” which is said to mimic the penguins’ foraging range. As penguins swim under and around guests in a 360-degree tunnel, view windows will allow visitors to see the birds from multiple vantage points. To make sure the new environment is as close as possible to the penguin’s natural habitat, water will be kept at 37 degrees Fahrenheit.

In addition to contractors putting the finishing touches on the 2.1-acre project, three fledging penguin chicks have been focused on their own work plan: growing large enough to make the move to the new center. The three chicks made their first public appearance in October after hatching in late May.

According to a zoo spokeswoman, the three young chicks were allowed to join the flock of adult penguins only after they grew sufficient adult feathers to be confident swimmers. After the center is open, additional penguins will join the group.

For more information, about the Polk Penguin Conservation Center, see and