22nd February 2024

Last week the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, a part of the Sea Life Trust, announced that the colony of Humboldt Penguins previously kept in their facility in Gweek, Cornwall, is “settling happily into their new home” at Five Sisters Zoo in Scotland. Social media posts on the move credit it with allowing them to enjoy a cooler climate, and integrate with a larger group of penguins. Whilst we at Freedom for Animals agree that these animals need those improvements, this move raises questions that the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, Sea Life, and its parent organisation, Merlin Entertainments, is yet to answer.

What about the rest of Sea Life’s penguins?

Last week we brought you news of a new campaign to liberate penguins from Sea Life aquariums. We particularly focussed on the gentoo penguins currently held captive in Sea Life London Aquarium’s basement. This is a small colony of just 15 penguins, kept in a tiny enclosure with no natural light or fresh air. Their pool offers just 6-7 feet of depth in which to dive - a pitiful fraction of the 600ft they can dive to in the wild. The conditions are objectively insufficient, and we are asking that Sea Life stop exhibiting these animals, stop breeding new generations of unconsenting attractions, and move the penguins currently in their care to sanctuary space where they can live in peace, daylight, and fresh air.

If Sea Life have recognised the need for their colony of humboldt penguins in Cornwall to be moved to a cooler climate with a larger group of penguins, why are they so blind to the needs and rights of the rest of the penguins in their facilities?

If you agree with us, that penguins deserve better, and Sea Life owes them a fresh start, sign our petition to have them freed.

Is Five Sisters Zoo a happy ending for the penguins?

Five Sisters Zoo is in Scotland, not far from Livingston. Scotland offers a much cooler climate, to which Humboldt Penguins are more accustomed. The zoo already had 8 Humboldt penguins, received 8 from Sea Life’s Cornish Seal Sanctuary, quickly followed by a further 6 from another ‘collection’. They report that all the new penguins are settling in well, however, this population increase may pose overcrowding problems if not managed effectively, and the potential for the zoo to breed more penguins is concerning. As its name suggests, Five Sisters Zoo is a zoo. Zoos are not conservation programmes, but tourist attractions. They are for-profit enterprises and new ‘attractions’ are a major revenue opportunity. Not only do these new penguins provide promotional material for the business, but they also provide breeding opportunities. Baby penguins often hit the local news and drive ticket sales for zoos, and we have seen many examples of zoos over-breeding species to produce newborns resulting in overcrowding and even the killing of ‘surplus animals’, like we saw in Germany just a couple of weeks ago.

What’s the alternative?

Zoos are, by their nature, exploitative. True sanctuaries, however, are much-needed solutions to the problems created by businesses that exploit animals. True sanctuaries do not force animals into displays, do not breed them to ensure new generations can be used as attractions, and always put the needs of the animals in their care first. The alternative to moving animals to another attraction is to break the cycle of exploitation and stop breeding them, stop exhibiting them to customers, and where possible release them to the wild or to true sanctuaries. It is even possible for existing zoos to transition to a sanctuary model - all they need to do is to stop seeing animals as revenue, and start seeing them as living, feeling individuals.

It remains to be seen whether this move from Cornwall to Scotland will offer any improvements for the lives of the penguins who have been moved there. However, what we can conclude from this news is that:

  • Sea Life is aware that its facilities do not provide the best environment for penguins

  • Moving penguins to seek new lives with better conditions is achievable

We are asking Sea Life and its parent Merlin Entertainments to relocate the penguins it currently holds captive to a true sanctuary: where they will not be bred, where their existence will not be one of constant public display, and where they can live their natural lives as animals, not props or exhibits.

You can help by:

Signing the petition today

Joining us as a Freedom Champion

Adopting a penguin