(CNN) — This week over 9 million people tuned in to Twitter to watch videos of penguins wobbling around outside their enclosures at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. That's a bigger audience than a typical episode of "Saturday Night Live" derives.
"Can you implement a live-feed?" commented Twitter user Mike Zillo. "We've got like 500 hours to kill."
The penguins' popularity could be because a growing desire for distraction for people sheltering at home from coronavirus.
Or people may just want to remind themselves that Mother Nature and all her creatures are at this moment blissfully unaware of our human troubles. Zoo, aquarium and sanctuary staff members have been working hard to ensure the anxiety gripping much of the world doesn't affect animal well-being.
At the Georgia Aquarium, 100 staff members are still bravely going into work at the closed aquarium to keep the animals healthy and fed despite statewide school, office and business closures.
"We are a 365-day operation, 24 hours, seven days a week," said CEO Dr. Brian Davis. "There's a certain level of passion that comes along with that."
Staffers are also making a special effort to give animals a bit more attention and provide them with some much-needed activity. Davis said animals actually get some benefit from gawking back at visitors. Without that constant stream of people, they can get bored, too
Although Georgia Aquarium is closed to the public, trainers work with belugas daily.
That passion for keeping the animals fed and keeping enclosures clean extends to keeping the public connected, even when they can't be face to face with their favorite platypus. Zoos and aquariums have long used webcams, social media and live feedings to keep the public interested in their animals long after they've left the property.
The fact that those webcams are already in place is a happy coincidence in a time when live streaming otter feedings may add a moment of light distraction in a day mostly spent cooped up indoors.
This week when Cincinnati Zoo announced its daily Home Safari Facebook live events at 3 p.m. EST, the zoo picked up 400,000 followers. Over 3.6 million viewers tuned in to see hippos Bibi and Fiona eating lettuce. In a way, the animals' celeb status is helping them earn their keep (Fiona also has her own beer, ice cream bowls, T-shirts and coffee.) Like many others, the Cincinnati Zoo is using social media to remind everyone that they are in sore need of donations.
"As a nonprofit organization, the zoo relies on ticket sales, zoo visits, memberships and donations to operate," said Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard. "Being closed will have a significant impact on its overall operating budget. Please consider donating to our emergency operating fund to assist us with the care of our animals and team members. Your support now is more critical than ever."
Need your animal fix? Here are a few virtual options for you, and don't forget to check in and offer your support to your local zoo or aquarium:
Kids driving you mad? Give them animals!
Ocean Park Zoo in Hong Kong has been closed since January 26, but it started a weekly YouTube series in February just for kids (and curious adults.)
Redd's Nature Play Party YouTube channel helps children use their five senses to learn more about animals. Watch a toothy rodent capybara chomping leaves or even make your own penguin toy. Although the videos are in Chinese, many are easy and fun to watch for nonspeakers.
They're bringing the animals to you, and you really need them right now
The Georgia Aquarium, Cincinnati Zoo, Chicago's Shedd Aquarium and the Monterey Aquarium in California are just a few getting creative while bringing the rest of us much needed animal entertainment.
The North Carolina Zoo has two baby southern white rhinos just born earlier this year, and you can follow their progress along with a few other animal toddlers on the zoo's social media pages. Monterey Bay Aquarium offers impromptu otter feedings and other random acts of kindness that seem to be aimed squarely at helping the rest of us maintain our sanity. You must really, really watch this guided meditation set to the soft swirls of their Pacific Sea nettle jellies. Don't forget wildlife parks and sanctuaries. Old Friends Animal Sanctuary in Tennessee has an ongoing stream of elderly rescue dogs in their "senior center." That's hosted on the live network Explore.org, which offers over 170 livestreams all around the world on its website. And the Tembe Elephant Park in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa live streams a popular watering hole.
Still open and livestreaming
Many of the world's zoos are still open, even in areas with confirmed coronavirus cases, including the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in the UK, Zoo Berlin and the National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra, Australia.
As the Australia zoo rarely sees more than 500 visitors at a time in its 22 hectare space, zookeepers said it was easy for visitors to maintain reasonable distance while getting in some outdoor time. They have implemented some changes, spreading out tables and seats and changing group tour policies.
"We ask all guests to practice personal hygiene in line with recommendations and if feeling unwell to avoid visiting the Zoo at this time," the Zoo said to guests on their website.
With the massive wildfires affecting wildlife and habitats in Australia for the foreseeable future, now may be the time to learn more about the country's quokkas, koalas and platypuses. Many zoos and sanctuaries have webcams and regularly update their YouTube pages.
The Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Open Range Zoo livestream their baby snow leopard cubs, penguins, lions and giraffes. Don't forget to donate as these zoos have a lot to do to help Australia's natural habitat recuperate.