A pair of celebrity penguins live under West Edmonton Mall
African penguins, Dayo and Skadu, star in the online TV series Northern Rescue
Two West Edmonton Mall penguins stepped out of the Sea Life Caverns and into the limelight this month.
African penguins have lived in the building's underground aquarium since it opened in 1986.
A pair of them, brothers Dayo and Skadu, play a feature role on Northern Rescue, a CBC and Netflix original series that launched on March 1.
Producers of the online show, which stars Billy Baldwin as a father raising his three children in a small northern town, invited the penguins on set to play the role of Tux.
In the series, Tux the penguin comes to live with the family in the Aquaverse, a rundown theme park in the small community.
Dayo and Skadu were flown to Parry Sound, Ont., for eight days of filming in September, where they stayed in a purpose-built exhibit with a backyard-sized pool.
Penguin trainer Megan Whyte said Dayo was a natural. But actor Taylor Thorne learned that some animal behaviour is beyond control.
"He was doing a really good job, he was really interactive, he was looking back and forth between the two actresses," Whyte said. "Then he turned tail and definitely pooped on Taylor's outfit."
Whyte said Thorne was more amused than annoyed, but it wasn't an isolated incident — African penguins have a bowel movement every eight to 10 minutes.
"We were basically following him around with paper towels, making sure no one slips on set," she said.
Available for weddings and engagements
Despite those constraints, Whyte said the Edmonton penguins have earned a reputation for their on-screen skills, acting in Telus commercials, Lexus ads and the 2007 film Good Luck Chuck.
In order for the animals to appear in a production, the trainers have set out strict protocols.
The penguins have a rider.
Some of the specifications for crew members include no food while penguins are on set and no Teflon near the set, because the material is toxic to birds.
The penguins won't work more than six hours a day.
People can hire the trained penguins for wedding and engagement announcements.
For $150, a penguin can walk down the aisle, with a ring on a string around its neck and act as a ring bearer.
Despite their many talents, Whyte said the eventual goal is that one day these penguins will return to the wild.
The African penguin is endangered. The species, native to Namibia and South Africa, has dwindled from a population of 1.5 million to 16,000, and Whyte said they could be extinct by 2040.
"One of their main diets is sardines," she said. "We overfish them a lot, and there's not enough in the wild for them to eat."
The other [problem] is plastic pollution, specifically plastic grocery bags. In the current they look a lot like squid, and then [penguins] eat them and that can make them very sick."
Dayo and Skadu were both hatched and raised in captivity, but the Marine Life program is set up so that eventually the mall penguins can be reintroduced to the wild once the species population is more stable and hatching their eggs in Africa is possible.