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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sand sculptures used by sea park to combat the loneliness of its penguins

By Hugo Gye

Penguins may not be used to sand - after all, the icy conditions of the Antarctic are very far from sunny beaches.

But this group is feeling right at home now that they have been given company in the form of sand-sculptures of their fellow penguins.

The sculptures were created by an artist in order to console the birds after the departure of another group to whom they had become attached.

Blending in: The penguins at the Sea Life Park in Weymouth are delighted by their new neighbours

And the 11 Humboldt penguins who live at the Sea Life Park in Weymouth, Dorset, are now entertaining visitors by trying to befriend the fake birds.

The penguins had been joined temporarily by a group of Gentoo penguins earlier this year while they were in transit.

The Gentoos, which are larger and more energetic than the laid-back Humboldts, spent a couple of months in the park and got on well with their hosts.

But when they were moved on to their new home, at a special exhibition at the Sea Life London Aquarium, the Humboldts were left pining for the charismatic birds.

Cheering up: The Humboldts had been pining for their Gentoo pals but seem satisfied with the artificial replacements

Staff in Weymouth tried to cheer them up by renovating their enclosure, and even added palm trees and a working shower to please them.

But the penguins refused to be cajoled, and carried on moping in their spruced up home and only picking at their food.

Fortunately for them, a local artist heard of their plight and offered to build a life-sized group of identical penguins out of sand.

Mark Anderson, who has spent 20 years building sand sculptures on Weymouth beach, volunteered to create nine Gentoo penguins, which have now been put in the birds' enclosure.

Curious: The penguins have been seen trying to befriend the new additions to their enclosure

Staff have reported a marked improvement in the penguins, who are now back to their normal cheery selves.

Fiona Smith, displays supervisor at Sea Life, said: 'The Gentoos were very different to our more easy-going Humboldts, but our penguins got quite attached to them and still seemed to be missing them.'

Craig Dunkeley, Sea Life boss, said: 'We really appreciated Mark's gesture, and whether or not our Humboldts are fooled by the incredibly lifelike sculptures, they certainly seem to have perked up.'

Mark Anderson said: 'The compacted sand can withstand strong winds and light rain, and the sculptures should survive a week or two at least.

'It's always nice to help your neighbours, especially when they're as comical and charming a group as these amazing penguins.'



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