CULTURE

Are the Penguins in the Shedd Aquarium Videos Okay?

The aquarium has over 130,000 Twitter followers, and its inhabitants are perhaps experiencing an existential crisis not unlike our own.

If you're finding a weird, almost religious solace in watching Chicago's Shedd Aquarium's animal videos, then you're not alone.

Since the coronavirus started taking over New York City, life here has been a series of endless questions, fear, and uncertainties, but one thing that's glowed like a beacon in the distance during this entire mad week is a short video of a penguin named Wellington waddling around and seeing otters for the first time.

Wellington is a whole 32 years old, meaning he's already lived double his expected lifespan, but he absolutely has not lost his youthful spark. If anything, the dear bird's life has just begun.

This week, perhaps to distract us humans from the state of our reality, caretakers at Illinois' Shedd Aquarium have released him, allowing him to walk around to all sorts of cages, showing him and his younger penguin compatriots other animals that they never would've otherwise seen and worlds they never would've known.

As I watched the video of Wellington flapping his wings at a group of red-bellied piranhas, I began to wonder: What is Wellington actually experiencing? Does he enjoy seeing these strange, alien creatures? Or has his world begun crashing down? Is he now realizing, like Neo in the Matrix, that his whole world was but a simulacrum, an illusion built on a plastic lie? Is he realizing that he may have been stolen from his home and taken to this aquarium, then told to comply with some master plan he had no part in designing?

Actually, Wellington seems extremely happy to be waddling around this foreign terrain, meeting gigantic animals and strange fish who seem equally intrigued by him. But still, what if Wellington is realizing that everything that surrounds him is just a lie built on capitalism? I may be confusing what's happening to Wellington with what humans are going through now, realizing that evictions could actually be stopped and mortgages could be waived and the U.S.'s healthcare system is woefully inadequate and all that, but who knows: Behind that adorable waddle, an existential crisis could be in full swing.

Cute rockhopper penguin couple Edward and Annie were also given the chance to explore the aquarium. They are a bonded pair of lovebirds, the aquarium explained, meaning they'll be together for the entire mating season. (Must be nice to be able to be with your lovebird in quarantine, not stuck on opposite sides of a city).

Tyson the prehensile-tailed porcupine was also allowed to visit the penguin habitat.

But what exactly are Edward, Annie, and Tyson experiencing right now? Are they questioning their reality, their relationships and livelihood having been possibly plotted by some scientists and zookeepers who have studied their kind for ages? Are they having a Truman-Show-esque experience, running up against the walls of the stage they've been performing on for their whole lives, unknowingly paraded for an equally captive audience? Are they having brief reveries of the past, like the Westworld robots, remembering disturbing veterinary visits and short-lived escapes?

It's likely that the exploration is quite good for the penguins, and they seem extremely well cared for. "Without guests in the building, caretakers are getting creative in how they provide enrichment to animals," the aquarium told the Chicago Tribune. "Introducing new experiences, activities, foods and more to keep them active, encourage them to explore, problem-solve and express natural behaviors."

The penguins are probably truly enjoying themselves. Plus, the videos are undoubtedly good for us, and we'll need this kind of innovation to keep our hearts full. But you never know. Reality is never as it seems.

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