Ashley Rose Yakaboski provides Zoom sessions for businesses and animal lovers who want to see alpacas on her parent's Baiting Hollow farm, Newsday's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman

Kids who love visiting animals can now virtually connect with a few stars at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead and an alpaca farm in Baiting Hollow.


Titled “Talk to the Animals,” the aquarium's attraction brings people face-to-face with a penguin, sea lion or seal, virtually. Five-minute private sessions are being offered by way of either Zoom, FaceTime or Facebook Messenger Video.

“We encourage people to ask questions,” says Darlene Puntillo, the aquarium’s director of marketing and advertising, who also admits that some animals are still mastering the art of the e-chat. “The sea lions are pretty familiar with a show setting from our daily sea lion shows,” notes Puntillo. “They know a lot of behaviors including clapping, sticking out their tongues, even smiling, so you'll get a lot of that with them.”

The Long Island Aquarium's Senior Mammal Trainer and Caregiver Nicole...

The Long Island Aquarium's Senior Mammal Trainer and Caregiver Nicole MacDonald poses with one of the facility's aquatic residents. The aquarium is currently offering virtual chats with some of its animals. Credit: Long Island Aquarium

The penguins however, are somewhat more restless, as she concedes that “we've learned that we usually will have to hold a penguin during their chat, otherwise they walk away and the video makes you a little dizzy trying to follow them!”

Nonetheless, these virtual chats are proving to be popular, but they are more than just a way for the public to check in with the aquarium’s residents, as the money raised during each $25 session goes to feed the animals.

"With the aquarium closed, our revenue source is completely shut down, but we still have animals to feed and care for, so our expenses are still there … We just hope that we will be able to open this summer and get the chance to see all of our friends again,” Puntillo says. “In the meantime, we'll do some of these [virtual] visits."

Penguins are available 11 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday, sea lions at 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and seals at 9:15 a.m. and 2 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (and 2 p.m. only on Wednesdays); make arrangements and purchases at


A private alpaca farm in Baiting Hollow is also getting into the Zoom-meet business as a way to "spread some alpaca love" during the pandemic, says Ashley Rose Yakaboski, whose parents own Red Barn Farm.

"It's a very intimate and personal experience with the alpacas," Yakaboski says. She leads Zoom virtual chats with the animals in private settings and even offers the chance for an alpaca to sit in on a corporate meeting. "They can see my alpaca on the screen while they're talking business." 

To schedule a session, visit Chats are $55 for 20 minutes. Up to 15 people can join the session. 

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