What Is It Like to Hug a Penguin?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

By Savannah Nease, Student

When I hugged a penguin, it was on my 13th birthday, and it was a dream come true. I had been sort of penguin obsessed as a middle schooler, so I went to SeaWorld to scope out the penguins for my birthday. That day, the staff was running around the enclosure trying to weigh the penguins, and one man was standing out on the public platform searching for a penguin that had evaded him. My mother spoke to him for a short while, and to my utter delight he offered to take us back to meet some of the penguins! The (expensive!) behind the scenes tour normally only allows people to pet the penguins with two fingers, but we got the full experience. We went into the freezing enclosure, and he introduced us to two King penguins (Stephen and Arthur). He said they loved to be squeezed, and so we did! It was highly satisfying. They are solid creatures and very soft to the touch. These were obviously birds that had been raised by humans and so were very comfortable around us.


By John Clover, Penguin Fanatic

Disclaimer: I haven't hugged a penguin.

I did get to go behind the scenes at Sea World, into the penguin enclosure. The penguin handler picked up several penguins, and I got to pet them; this is as close to a hug as I got. Besides that, the penguins surrounded us, dozens of them, huddled around our feet, which we had to sanitize before entering their frigid habitat.

It was completely adorable. Penguins are bonded to their keepers and will only eat food given to them by their keeper, so when their keeper enters the habitat, they swarm him/her. The penguins who have a different keeper go about their business and pretend that nobody is there; it's pretty cute.

Petting a penguin was like petting a soft adorable pillow with cute cartoon eyes.

Hugging a penguin might be too adorable for the average person to survive.


By David Zhou, computational biology graduate student

Very difficult. I tried to hug this little guy, but it kept waddling away! They're not very affectionate creatures. But otherwise, they have really dense and slippery bodies. It's like hugging an oily, feathery bag of sand.

I had this opportunity because a graduate school classmate of mine once volunteered for the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium and brought me and a few friends "backstage." We were walking through a hallway behind some fish tanks when we stumbled upon some personnel with a penguin. The cart behind the penguin was an improvised solution to keep this penguin from waddling away. It was an unexpected treat and definitely the highlight of my day.


By Amy Robinson, Founder, TEDx Global Music Project

I've always wanted to hug a penguin and finally had the chance in Dubai (of course). The ones at the mall had slick, thick feathers. They smell like dead fish. These were very docile ... guess they're trained to let people pet and hug them all day.

The story is better than the actual experience.


By Sean Tizoc Spiers, Global Wanderer

I helped tag some penguin chicks while in Antarctica. They were moody, chattering, smelly ... VERY smelly. Adelie penguin chicks would projectile defecate out of fear as we grabbed them, stuffed them into a bag head first to weigh them, and then tag their wings.

They and their parents were wild, so they were far from cuddly, but I was surprised at their organization as they would group charge the sides of the portable pens we had corralled them into.

There was a particular pair of penguin chicks that actually seemed to give me a very hard time, chattering at me after we had weighed and tagged them. Almost as if they knew I wasn't going to hurt them, so they got all the more aggressive as a result.

Hug them? No, they were wild, and considering the number of penguin chick carcasses around the rookery, rightfully frightened of anything big and aggressive (the skua would feast on any penguin chick that was separated from the group).

More questions on penguins: