Why the penguins and seals at Sea Life Scarborough are missing the humans in lockdown

Rather like their human counterparts, the thousands of animals at Scarborough’s Sea Life Centre are experiencing the sudden peace and quiet, which descended with lockdown, in very different ways.

Among the 2,700 creatures, there are nine species of shark, a colony of Humboldt penguins, seals and two ancient otters at what is one of the most popular attractions on Yorkshire’s coast.

“I think the older population of our collection probably are enjoying it and the younger ones – it’s like having kids at home – have too much energy and want to show off to people,” said curator Lyndsey Crawford-Darwell.

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Among the ones who are desperate for a bit of attention, after the novelty of being “off work” wore off, is one of the younger seals, Boo, who comes up with new tricks to get fish at feeding times and adorable Skipper, a six-year-old Humboldt penguin “who wants cuddles all the time”.

Behind the scenes at Scarborough Sea Life & Marine Sanctuary, Scalby Mills Road, Scarborough Picture: James Hardisty

At this time of the year, the centre would normally be heaving with school visits, before going into the even more frenetic summer period, when there can be up to 2,500 visitors a day.

The penguins are in an outside walk-through enclosure and normally visitors would be there interacting with them.

There would be a “hell of a lot of noise” as people call out the names of the birds they have adopted but following the lockdown, there has only been the skeleton team in feeding the animals.

“We’ve definitely seen them chill out a bit, it’s like they are on holiday,” said Ms Crawford-Darwell. “They are at work 365 days a year, so when that stops they will notice a big difference.

Some of the penguins are missing out on human interaction Picture: James Hardisty

“We are starting to see the penguins and seals are missing the interaction, and so we are trying to spend more time with those guys.

“One of our younger seals Boo really loves the interaction, he likes to clap water and do spirals to get fish.

“He’s a real performer. But because the public aren’t around to perform to, I think he is missing it a bit.”

In the meantime, staff have to be careful not to cuddle Skipper too much as it risks taking his attention away from “girlfriend” Betty.

Fishing around for a snack.. a seal at Scarborough's Sea Life Centre Picture: James Hardisty

“He is trying to flirt with us and Betty wants his attention,” said Ms Crawford-Darwell, who hopes the centre will open to the public again in June.

Things will look very different though, with the now standard one-way systems in place and a limit put on numbers going in.

“We will probably have an online ticket situation, with people getting time slots, a one-way system and a minimum number of people to start with,” she said.

“There won’t be any talks or demonstrations so people are not congregating.”

One of the seals at Scarborough Sea Life Centre Picture: James Hardisty
The seals at Scarborough's Sea Life Centre, which is hoping to reopen in June Picture: James Hardisty