Video of penguins waddling about the empty Shedd Aquarium rotunda lit up the internet this week, giving Chicagoans and people across the country a brief respite from news of the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

With the aquarium closed, caregivers let the penguins wander the normally tourist-packed walkways. A tweet from the Shedd’s Twitter account explained that it was “providing new experiences for the animals to explore and express their natural behaviors.”

Unfortunately, we humans continue to express some of our natural behaviors, despite warnings from state and federal health officials to limit social contact and generally lay low to reduce the transmission of the virus. That, according to my well-placed sources in the penguin community, has the Shedd Aquarium penguins more than a little upset.

In the interest of both human and penguin preservation, they relayed the following letter to me and asked it be shared far and wide.

Dear human people:

We, the Shedd Aquarium penguins, would first like to thank you very much for giving us fish. We love fish. Please do not stop giving us fish, which we love very much.

As you know, we were recently let out of our enclosure, the one where they give us fish, which we love, and allowed to walk (please do not say “waddle,” it is very offensive to us) around the aquarium and experience life from your perspective. It was fun.

But as we returned to our enclosure—and to more fish!—we could not help but feel worried about your recent behavior in light of the coronavirus outbreak. (We get CNN and stay informed on what you fish-suppliers … sorry …“humans” are up to, and Wellington is on Twitter almost 24/7. We think he is addicted.)

Do your human brains, which we believe are technically larger than our penguin brains, not grasp what is happening? You have been directed to, if at all possible, remain in your enclosures. Why are so many of you not doing that? Are your caretakers not putting you back in or something?

There are now more than 6,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country, and the humans we see on the TV keep saying it will be many, many more. There are people dying. Nearly 20 older humans at an older-human facility in Willowbrook now have the virus.

We know you are not coming to see us at the aquarium, which is good, but we see videos of many of you out and about acting like nothing has changed. THINGS HAVE CHANGED, HUMANS! GO IMMEDIATELY TO YOUR ENCLOSURES!

We saw a doctor human named Sanjay Gupta on CNN Tuesday night, and he seemed annoyed that other humans are not taking this outbreak seriously. He said: “You have to act as if you might be carrying the virus. … Never have we been so dependent on each other, at least not in my lifetime, and we should rise to that occasion.”

Why are you not listening to this Gupta human? He seems like a smart human who would give us fish. We are very concerned that if you do not start listening to people like him, we may not have humans to give us fish. (Have we mentioned how much we like fish?)

We, as concerned penguins, beg you to use your larger human brains and remain in your enclosures as much as possible. We are serious. As penguins, we do not have to worry about the coronavirus. You can sneeze on our beaks and we will be just fine. But you humans must remember one thing: YOU ARE NOT PENGUINS. (And you are really missing out on the joy of fish!)

With that in mind, please ask yourselves these five simple questions any time you consider leaving your enclosures.

1) Are you a flightless seabird? If not, you need to treat the coronavirus seriously and follow the rules set out by human medical professionals.

2) Are you able to drink seawater then use a gland near your eyes to filter the salt out of your bloodstream before expelling that salt through your nasal passageways? If not, you should practice social distancing until further notice.

3) Do you lose your feathers all at once each year in something called a “catastrophic molt”? If not, please remain in your enclosure as much as possible, regularly wash your hands for 20 seconds and stay away from humans outside family members who live in your enclosure.

4) Do you enjoy sliding on your belly? If so, you could be either a penguin or a human. It is really fun! Just move on to the next question.

5) When your species was first discovered, was it described as “strange

geese”? If not, kindly stick to your enclosure and take this stuff seriously.

It is a simple test, humans. Please do the right thing.

While we like walking around the empty aquarium, we prefer watching you stare at us and laugh while we do things we consider perfectly normal and not funny.

But most of all, we like having you around to give us fish.

Take care, and do not come back until it is safe. (Bring fish.)

Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune

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