I visited the aquarium in March. At that point, it had been closed for a full year. But even while closed to visitors, the aquarium is full of life. Forests of kelp swayed, otters splashed around and tanks upon tanks of fish bubbled everywhere I looked.
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Without families, tourists and strollers crowding the floor, I had the unique opportunity to roam free -- and I wasn't the only one. Rey is a 6-year-old African penguin with a slight stature and the personality of a Labrador.
See my adventure with Rey in the video at the top of this story.
Rey was born at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but things didn't look good at first. She had cataracts that had to be surgically removed and required around-the-clock care from aquarium staff. She's come a long way since then, getting along with her fellow penguins, seeing better and even mating with another penguin named Dassen.
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Rey has gained so much confidence since her early days, she often gets to leave the penguin exhibit at the aquarium entirely, roaming free, saying hi to staff and occasionally bumping into things (her vision is still a little shaky, after all). I followed this adorable, social, clumsy girl around the aquarium for a full morning and loved every minute of it. Follow along by watching the video at the top of this story.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium reopens to the general public on May 15. Reserve tickets on the aquarium's website.