Michaela Smale

It’s one of the best jobs in the world. Here’s what day-to-day life is like for a penguin keeper at SEA LIFE Melbourne.

Michaela Smale, penguin keeper at SEA LIFE Aquarium Melbourne.

From a young age, Michaela Smale was obsessed with Animal Planet. At first, she wasn’t clear what job to pursue, but one thing was certain – Michaela wanted to work with animals.

After high school, she studied marine biology and biodiversity and, for the past three years, has been a keeper at SEA LIFE Melbourne looking after the king and gentoo penguins.


Morning chores

The day begins early when you’re caring for the black-and-white stars of the show.

“We start work at 7.30am and our first job is to make sure the exhibit is cleaned from top to bottom,” she explains. “This involves lots of hosing, scrubbing and shovelling snow. We use a snow machine to blow about two tonnes of fresh snow into the exhibit daily.”

The penguins get bored easily, so Michaela and the other keepers move rocks around, create snow hills for them, and add other items that enrich the birds’ lives.

Gentoo penguins at SEA Life Aquarium Melbourne. Credit: Tourism Australia.

Small and nimble, gentoo penguins can be mischievous at meal times. Credit: Tourism Australia.

Feeling fishy 

If you imagined penguins had two meals a day, think again. “We feed the penguins six or more times a day,” says Michaela. “There are targeted hand feeds, where each penguin receives their daily vitamin and we conduct a health check on them. We also do pool feeds, where every penguin has the opportunity to swim for squid, whitebait and pilchards.”

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of food involved. Each day, the keepers prepare between 30 and 100 kilograms of fish and other seafood. 

King penguins at SEA LIFE Aquarium, Melbourne. Credit: Tourism Australia

Around two tonnes of fresh snow is created for the penguin enclosure everyday. Credit: Tourism Australia.

More to explore 

Apart from the penguins, Michaela says there’s so much more to see at SEA LIFE Melbourne including the saltwater crocodile Pinjarra, turtles, jellyfish, sharks, octopus, cuttlefish, and a huge variety of fish in all sizes and colours.

But she wouldn’t trade her penguins for any of them: “I love the bonds I’ve formed with them and watching them thrive in the environment we create for them every day.”