You are here:

Wild Animals/Swimming with penguins


What would be your opinion about having a "swim with penguins" program, similar to the swim with dolphin experience?

Arms with penguin bites (photo: Tony Van Dalsen)
Arms with penguin bite  
Hello Claudia,

Thank you for your question about a "swim with penguins" program. I can emphatically say "no" to this concept. For several reasons...

First, penguins are much harder to train than dolphins, and I am certain you could not train a penguin to swim alongside person in the water.

Second, penguins are extremely fast and agile swimmers, and there's absolutely no way a person could keep up with them in the water.

Third - and most importantly - penguins have extremely sharp beaks and can inflict a tremendous amount of damage to human flesh. When I was in South Africa training volunteers how to care for the 20,000 penguins that were oiled in the Treasure oil spill, several people were bitten clear through their lips by penguins! (And required stitches.) My hands and arms are covered with scars from penguin bites (from that rescue effort, as well as from working with 'tame' penguins at an aquarium for 9 years). For this reason, we had an 18" rule at the New England Aquarium, where I was a Senior Penguin Aquarist. The rule stated that your face always had to be a minimum of 18" away from the penguin's face, whether you were walking through the water in the exhibit, or up on an island feeding and cleaning. We had a minimum height requirement for our volunteers as well, since the exhibit water was about 4' deep. And they could never swim or float in the exhibit - only walk through it to get to one of the penguin islands. We later increased the required distance to 24". And if a volunteer broke the 24" rule, we fired them. That's how great the risk is and how seriously we took it. If you still have any doubts, just take a look at the attached photo (which was taken during the Treasure oil spill rescue.)

So, I hope I've managed to convince you that this would be a bad idea! But thank you for asking about it.  ;)

Warm regards,
Dyan deNapoli - The Penguin Lady

Wild Animals

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Dyan deNapoli


I ONLY ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT PENGUINS. As a recognized penguin expert, I can authoritatively answer any questions about penguins - from biology, behavior, conservation, habitat or the impacts of global warming, to working in an aquarium setting and husbandry management etc. AGAIN, I ANSWER PENGUIN QUESTIONS ONLY - IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT OTHER ANIMALS, PLEASE ASK A DIFFERENT EXPERT. Thank you!


I was a Senior Penguin Aquarist at the New England Aquarium in Boston for nine years, where I co-managed a colony of seventy penguins. I have extensive experience hand-rearing penguin chicks, managing colony health, understanding penguin behavior, and educating the public about penguins. I've been the guest penguin expert on numerous television and radio shows in the US and abroad, have been the content reviewer for three books about penguins, and have spoken at national and international conferences. I have spoken at four TEDx conferences - my TEDx talk about the Treasure oil spill rescue is featured on the main TED website. It can been viewed at In the summer of 2000, I worked as a rehabilitation manager during the rescue of 40,000 African penguins from an oil spill. I wrote an award-winning book about this event, THE GREAT PENGUIN RESCUE, which Simon & Schuster published in October of 2010. In 2006, I founded an educational company called THE PENGUIN LADY, which is devoted to raising awareness and funding to help protect threatened and endangered penguin species. I provide on-site programs about penguins for children and adults, and donate a portion of the proceeds from every appearance to penguin rescue groups.

National Marine Educators Association (NMEA), Massachusetts Marine Educators Association (MMEA), Association of Zoos & Aquariums, International Zoo Educators Association, Author's Guild, International Women's Writing Guild, North Shore Women in Business (NSWIB), North Shore Business Forum, Mount Ida Veterinary Technology Accreditation Committee, Mensa International

On October 26, 2010, Simon & Schuster's Free Press imprint published THE GREAT PENGUIN RESCUE, a book that I wrote about the remarkable rescue of 40,000 penguins from the Treasure oil spill in South Africa. I worked as a rehabilitation supervisor during this historic event. More than 12,500 volunteers labored for three grueling months, after which 95% of the penguins were successfully released back into the wild. THE GREAT PENGUIN RESCUE has won several literary awards, and is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other stores and online retailers. I authored the Penguin chapter for Scholastic Publishing's New Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia (NBK) in 2008, which is also available online at Grolier. (Most libraries have free access to this database.) I wrote the feature cover story (about the Treasure oil spill rescue) for the January 2011 The Mensa Bulletin. A link to that article, title Rescued Treasure, is here: I've had several articles published online, as well as in Mused Literary Magazine. A paper that I wrote about the New England Aquarium's penguin outreach program was published in the AZA conference proceedings journal in 1998.

BS in Animal Science from Mount Ida College in 1996, AZA Conservation Education School - NC State University 1999, PADI Scuba certified in 1995

Awards and Honors
Distinguished Alumni Award from Mount Ida College in 2002 for outstanding contributions in the sciences - award given in recognition of work done as a rehabilitation manager during the rescue of 20,000 penguins from an oil spill in South Africa. Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Mount Ida College in 1996 - awarded for Exceptional Achievement in the Sciences at graduation ceremonies

Past/Present Clients
Numerous schools, colleges, libraries, museums, cruise ships, assisted living facilities, rotary clubs and more. I've been the onboard penguin expert/guest lecturer on nature cruises to the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica. I've also been the guest on numerous TV and radio programs, including CNN, BBC, CBC Radio-Canada, ABC Radio Australia. and Sierra Club Radio. If you wish to obtain specific names or locations, please contact me via e-mail or through my website at

©2017 All rights reserved.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]