An aquarium in London is helping its penguins prepare for its first human visitors when lockdown ends by presenting them with Christmas movies. This week the penguins gathered around to watch Elf ahead of the aquarium's reopening on Wednesday.

With lockdown restrictions in place, the gentoo penguins at Sea Life London Aquarium have been without their steady flow of visitors for nearly a month. So the team tasked with taking care of them have come up with creative ways to help the penguins' sensory enrichment. Aquarist Leah Pettitt told the Press Association (PA) that 2020 has presented "more challenges than most" in keeping the penguins entertained.

Penguin watched Elf on a giant screen
Gentoo penguins watching Christmas movies at the SEA LIFE Centre London Aquarium ©Yui Mok/PA Images/Getty Images

The aquarium in South Bank houses more than 500 species from sharks to moray eels. "At Sea Life London Aquarium, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to keep all our creatures entertained and engaged, as part of our enrichment processes," she said.

Ahead of the aquarium's reopening on Wednesday, the Sea Life team played classic Christmas movies on a giant screen outside the penguin enclosure. The screenings have been taking place at other Sea Life aquariums throughout the UK and the penguins have responded positively to the pictures and sounds of their festive films. Apparently Elf was their favourite movie. "It's great to see how much our gentoo penguins are enjoying the Christmas movies we've put on for them," Leah said.

Penguins watching Christmas movies
The movie screenings are part of the penguins' sensory enrichment process ©Yui Mok/PA Images/Getty Images

Gentoo penguins are the third largest species of penguin, and the fastest. They're also extremely playful and monogamous, with two penguins pairing for a few breeding seasons and sharing equal responsibility of raising their family.

During winter months, the aquarists at Sea Life set the lights and temperature within their enclosure to match the sunrise and sunset cycle of the southern hemisphere, where penguins are almost exclusively found. The variation in light cycles and temperature is designed to encourage their natural seasonal behaviour.

Penguins watching Christmas movies
The screenings have been taking place at other Sea Life centres ©Yui Mok/PA Images/Getty Images

Sea Life Trust, the aquariums' marine conservation charity partner, recently set up the world's first beluga whale sanctuary. Located in Iceland, the groundbreaking project is home to Little Grey and Little White, two 12-year-old female belugas, who are now living out their lives in open water after being transferred from captivity in Shanghai.

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