SeaWorld Orlando will debut their largest expansion in park history this week.  We have the final construction update today, along with park updates, and a MiceChat exclusive interview with the Assistant Curator of Birds, Anita Sciavoni-Gibbons, about why people love penguins and what she hopes people will walk away with after they experience Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins!

So, brace yourself, we are coming to the finish line for this new and impressive expansion at SeaWorld Orlando!

ANTARCTICA: Empire of the Penguins

An exclusive interview with the Assistant Curator of Birds, Anita Schiavoni-Gibbons

We were thrilled to sit down with Anita Schiavoni-Gibbons, the Assistant Curator of Birds, at SeaWorld Orlando. The following is a summary of our conversation with this fascinating lady.

MiceChat: Tell us how you got involved with Aviculture?

Anita Schiavoni-Gibbons: I have always loved animals… I started working for SeaWorld in High School in the Culinary Operations department, and trying to get a feel for the different animal departments.  I learned so much about birds, about the diversity of birds throughout the world.  They are in every environment you could possibly imagine, from the desert to the cold of Antarctica.  The diversity of Birds at SeaWorld alone was developing and growing, and I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to grow and learn and contribute.

MC:  What is your first SeaWorld Memory?

ASG: My first SeaWorld Memory is from my childhood when I was 13.  I came out here with my family, and I remember my mom and me at the tide pool where we could touch the starfish.  And I thought that was neat.  And that is my first memory of SeaWorld.

MC:  What animals have you been able to work with at SeaWorld?

ASG:  My focus has been on the birds and aviculture.  So I have worked with everything from ducks, geese, swans, flamingos and obviously the penguins and everything in between, Toucans, parrots, you name it, I have worked with it!

MC: How long have you been working with the penguins?

ASG:  I started working with them since December in 1986.   I joined the Aviculture department in June of 1986 I was fresh, I was new, I was just out of college.  And in December of that same year I was able to fly out to SeaWorld in San Diego and hand raise the penguins that started our colony here at SeaWorld in Orlando.   So, I have been able to see, over the last 27 years, those chicks grow up and become parents and grandparents.

MC:  We have some questions from some youngsters on MiceChat who wrote in.  Henry, age 4 from Idaho, asks, “Why Penguins?”

ASG:  Why Penguins? Why not!  They are so comical! They are a bird that many people will never be able to see out in the wild because they live in such harsh conditions.  So, to be able to bring penguins to people so close and personal is very exciting.  So that people can see how they behave and how they swim.  I love all birds, and penguins are just an extension of that love.  They unique and awesome!

MC:  Hailey, age 8 from Utah, asks, “how many feathers do penguins have?”

ASG:  Penguins have the most feathers per square inch of any bird!  They have 70 feathers per square inch!  They have a lot of feathers that overlap and help keep them warm.

MC:  Hailey also asks “how long is the incubation period for penguins?”

ASG: It is different for each species.  For the smaller species it is around 30 – 35 days, for the King Penguins it is 55 – 60 days.  So it is quite a long time.

MC: Jasmine, age 4 from Utah, wants to know “how do penguins communicate with each other?”

ASG:  They make lots of different sounds, some sound like a donkey, some sound like a car that can’t start.  They all have different vocalizations.

MC:  Circling back to Antarctica opening… When people come to view SeaWorld’s collection of Penguins what do you want people to take away from the experience?

ASG:  We want them to walk away with a greater sense of family.  Penguin parents are very devoted to their chicks.  And you can see that every day.   The importance that there is a group, there is a colony working together.  Helping to keep the chicks warms, all the chicks will huddle together for warmth called a cresh, and the adults will gather on the outside babysitting them.  The sense of family is very strong for penguins.

MC:  What was the process like moving the penguins from their home to their temporary home while you built Antarctica?

ASG:  This was the smoothest process ever.  It took about 2 hours, we backed a refrigerated truck up to the moving dock, and in groups of 25 we walked them down the hallway and into the truck.  Closed the door, and drove them down to the backstage holding area, then opened the door, and they walked into their temporary home.  It was very stress free, and happened very quickly.

MC:  Were you involved or able to give feedback on the design of the new habitat?

ASG:  We have been involved from the get go, giving our ideas and thoughts on how to improve from old exhibit to the new exhibit, getting the texture of the rock work down.  It has been a great process for us.

MC:  What can people expect to be different this time when you compare the old Penguin exhibit to the new one?

ASG:  The temperature and the weather are going to be the big difference.  It will be exciting to see the guest’s reactions, and we are excited to see it.   The guests are going to have an experience unlike any other.

MC:  The Penguins here in Orlando, are they on Antarctica time or Central Florida time?

ASG:  They are on the Antarctica light cycle.

MC:  How is this accomplished?

ASG:  It is indoors, so all of our lights are reflective  of the broad spectrum lighting they would be experiencing in their natural environment.  Florescent lights, Mercury Halo lights, LED lights, all of them duplicate all their seasons, and we have 39 light changes throughout the year.  So we are accurately depicting their natural environment through our light cycles here at SeaWorld.  There is a lot of research done, and it is very technical.   They molt, they breed, they do everything here at SeaWorld they would do in their natural environment.

We want to thank Anita again for sharing with us, and we cannot wait to experience Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins.  To listen to the entire interview, download and listen to the latest episode of the Unofficial SeaWorld Podcast. Steam below or download directly to your device via iTunes Link HERE or Direct Download HERE.


SeaWorld hosted an event called “Canines in the Park” for Canine Companions for Independence, a group that focuses on training and giving dogs to individuals with disabilities.  It was neat seeing all these super dogs in the parks!


SeaWorld joins with Universal in offering the Coke Freestyle machines in the parks.  These should integrate with the new build your own Penguin “Cup that cares” that will track how much pollution and CO2 you save by using your refillable cup.


As SeaWorld is getting ready for what is sure to be a record breaking summer, they have thrown out their slow old biometric readers and have installed newer faster ones that should help get people through the turnstiles faster.



Major repainting continues as Turtle Trek’s façade gets a touch up. This should be done by shortly as they are trying to wrap up all projects before Antarctica has its Grand Opening!


Antarctica Grand Opening Coverage

We will be at Antarctica’s Grand Opening on May 24th. Please follow the MiceChat Twitter Feed for breaking news, photos and audio.

We’ll see you again very soon with reviews, photos, video and more from the more highly anticipated attraction in SeaWorld history.