SAN DIEGO – Linda Henry is greeted every morning by the “hums” of the penguins she helped raise.
“They’ll see me walking and then they’ll start doing contact calls,” Henry said. “They do that to the birds that are in their colony.”
She’s the supervisor of Zoological Birds at SeaWorld San Diego and has dedicated her whole life to keeping them safe.
“I have been here longer than the oldest bird,” she said.
SeaWorld San Diego is the only place in the Western Hemisphere where you can see an Emperor penguin in person, and Henry has hand-raised most of them.
“I still pinch myself every day that I get to be with Emperor penguins,” she said. “With any penguins, honestly.”
Unfortunately, the Emperor penguin is near-threatened and many other penguin species are endangered or vulnerable because of climate change, severe weather, predators and diseases.
The park is now taking extreme measures to educate people on the plight of the penguin.
The Emperor is their newest ride. It is the tallest, fastest and longest dive coaster in California, as well as the only floorless dive coaster in the state.
Named after the Emperor penguin, the coaster was designed to mimic their amazing underwater diving ability. Climbing to 153 feet with feet dangling in the air, riders will be suspended on a 45-degree angle at the crown of the ride before plunging down a 14-story facedown vertical drop, accelerating to more than 60 miles per hour. Riders will also experience inversions, a barrel roll, an Immelmann loop, a hammerhead turn and a flat spin as they race along the nearly 2,500 feet of track. Each of the floorless ride cars will hold 18 riders in three, six-person rows. This is the first seating configuration of its kind in North America.
Jim Potter, the project manager, kept everything on track from start to finish.
“I will be honest with you. I’ve ridden it a lot of times but that first time I was a little bit apprehensive and it did get me a little bit startled, “Potter said. “When you’re looking straight down, it really amplifies why we did the floorless coaster because when you’re just dangling there at that 45 degrees waiting for that drop, the anticipation really gets going and you get to see why we chose that floorless design. ”
A portion of sales from the Emperor retail store goes to Penguins International to support their important conservation, education and research efforts.
Henry knows the new ride will raise awareness of the conservation needs of the special birds.
“Of course, I was very excited to hear that we would have a coaster featuring and the namesake for Emperor penguins and it’s important because again it elevates the profile of penguins,” Henry said. “All of us can make a difference.”
The Emperor Coaster was named one of the most anticipated rides of 2022 by USA Today.