Archive: Detroit Zoo’s Polk Penguin Conservation Center Offers a Lesson in ‘Endurance’

Search in Antarctica for Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship has been called off

February 14, 2019

ROYAL OAK, Mich., 

The attempt this week in Antarctica to locate the wreckage of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance may have ended without success, but Detroit Zoo visitors can still immerse themselves in an experience simulating the legendary voyage.

Shackleton’s harrowing journey has been called the greatest survival story of all time – an 18-month struggle to lead his 28-man crew to safety after their ship was crushed in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea.

Inspiration born of Shackleton’s Antarctic experience and epic crossing of the Drake Passage can be found throughout the Zoo’s Polk Penguin Conservation Center, starting with the building’s dramatic exterior, which evokes a tabular iceberg. Replications of artifacts and a video containing haunting clips from the expedition greet visitors upon entering.

Guests descend a series of ramps – as if aboard the Endurance – surrounded by actual footage of the turbulent Drake Passage as well as icy 4-D effects, including blasts of polar air and sea mist. A photo exhibition features dozens of images of the voyage taken by Frank Hurley, a member of the ship’s crew.

“The amazing collection of images, film and artifacts in the Polk Penguin Conservation Center – along with the exciting 4-D experience – pays homage to the heroism, leadership and human endurance of Sir Ernest Shackleton,” said Ron Kagan, Detroit Zoological Society executive director and CEO.

The Weddell Sea Expedition team had been conducting its search at the Endurance’s last recorded position since Sunday, working in one of the most unforgiving environments on the planet. The explorers were forced to end their pursuit on Thursday due to harsh weather and rough seas.

“The notion of locating the wreckage of the Endurance has fascinated historians and archaeologists for decades,” Kagan said. “The endurance of the expedition team is to be admired – they are the first humans to venture to that location since Shackleton and his crew more than one hundred years ago.”

The 33,000-square-foot, $32-million Polk Penguin Conservation Center is home to 75 king, rockhopper, macaroni and gentoo penguins. Its signature feature is a 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area where visitors can watch the birds swim and dive from two acrylic underwater tunnels. The facility received the 2017 Exhibit Award from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums for excellence in exhibit design.