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COMFORT ZONE

Visit your favorite zoo and aquarium animals online

Mei Xiang, the female giant panda at the National Zoo in Washington, enjoyed a frozen fruit treat in February.
Mei Xiang, the female giant panda at the National Zoo in Washington, enjoyed a frozen fruit treat in February.Katherine Frey/The Washington Post

Clara the California sea lion and Rex the Argentine Tegu locked eyes through the glass surrounding Clara’s aquatic enclosure at Mystic Aquarium. The unlikely face-off, or as it’s playfully captioned #staringgame, has been viewed more than 8,900 times on the Connecticut aquarium’s Instagram (@mysticaquarium).

Like most zoos and aquariums nationwide, Mystic shut its doors to patrons due to COVID-19 precautions, but beloved animals like Clara and Rex are still on view online.

Through social media, the aquarium staff gives its audience an intimate glimpse into the animals’ routines — and some unique scenarios — void of typical onlookers. In a blog post on the aquarium’s website (https://www.mysticaquarium.org), curator Laurie Macha wrote about the importance of maintaining regularity for the animals in the aquarium’s care, but also encouraging positivity. "We are incredibly fortunate to be able to care for the animals,” she wrote. “It’s even a bit therapeutic; especially in these trying times!”

Zoos and aquariums across the nation have similarly used digital tools as a way to keep their creatures connected to their adoring fans. Roger Williams Park Zoo (https://www.rwpzoo.org/) in Rhode Island broadcasted its African elephant Ginny’s bath time on Facebook Live, garnering more than 52,000 views, while her keepers took questions from watchers in real time.

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Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian National Zoo (https://nationalzoo.si.edu/) offers free virtual educational activities on its website for school-age children to engage with while at home. Resources include behind-the-scenes, career-focused videos with zoo staff and a virtual bird exploration activity that teaches students how Smithsonian scientists use data for wildlife conservation. The New England Aquarium provides virtual visits with its animals on Facebook, and every Friday at 11 a.m., it hosts a live Q&A with explorer-in-residence Brian Skerry, where viewers can ask questions and interact with staff. On its website (https://www.neaq.org), parents can also print out kid-friendly activity sheets to “Paint Like a Seal" and craft a paper sea turtle shell at home.

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Animal fans can also tune in to the National Zoo’s livestreams of creatures in their care, including lions, giant pandas, naked mole rats, and elephants. Flip the channel to the San Diego Zoo (https://zoo.sandiegozoo.org/) to access streams of 12 species on its website, like penguins, koalas, and giraffes. The videos broadcast 24/7, so audiences from home can observe some of their favorite animals in their zoo habitats at any hour.