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Birch Aquarium nears opening of its little blue penguins exhibit, where you can meet Azulito and the gang

Divers reveal the name of Azulito, one of Birch Aquarium's little blue penguins.
Divers reveal the name of Azulito, one of Birch Aquarium’s little blue penguins. The name was chosen through public voting.
(Jordann Tomasek / Courtesy of Birch Aquarium)

When Birch Aquarium in La Jolla opens its new exhibit of little blue penguins on Tuesday, July 12, visitors will be able to call their favorite world’s smallest penguins by name.

One of the little blues got its moniker this month after public voting online. The winner: Azulito, or “little blue” in Spanish.

During a ceremony in the aquarium’s Giant Kelp Forest, divers unfurled a banner underwater with the winning name surrounded by leopard sharks, moray eels and swaying kelp fronds while some of the exhibit’s little blues looked on.

“This is the first time we have invited the public to help name one of our animals. So it was a special moment for aquarium fans as well as our staff,” said Kayla Strate, Birch’s lead penguin aquarist. “We hope this is the beginning of a long tradition of naming our penguins. Azulito is the perfect fit for this tiny penguin, and we love that it’s a nod to our binational region.”

Voters were asked to choose from among five finalist names — each with ties to San Diego or UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, of which Birch is a part — to end a campaign that launched on World Penguin Day, April 25.

The name Azulito won by a landslide with 924 votes. Diego received 588 votes and Flip came in third with 438, followed by Torrey and Triton with 281 and 234 votes, respectively.

Earlier this year, Birch Aquarium sold the naming rights to other little blue penguins for $50,000 each to help underwrite their new $2.8 million habitat. It’s the only one west of the Rockies to feature little blues, which are generally less than a foot tall and weigh about 3 pounds.

Azulito — along with Magic, Nero, Persimmon, Reka, Cornelius and Katie — will be in the 2,900-square-foot Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins exhibit, which aims to tell the penguins’ story from hatchlings to adults and highlight the challenges they face. It includes an 18,000-gallon penguin lagoon, a small amphitheater and a children’s observation cave.

The aquarium will begin expanded summer hours on Friday, July 1, and will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5.

The little blue penguins exhibit will be included in the cost of general admission, which is $24.95 for adults and $19.95 for children ages 3-17. Reservations are required for all guests, including aquarium members.

For reservations or more information, visit aquarium.ucsd.edu. ◆