Penguin Awareness Day Penguin Awareness Day

Triple the Fun this African Penguin Breeding Season at Adventure Aquarium

By: Jenna L. Eckel

 

 

Kids grow up too fast these days, especially African Penguin chicks! 

Believe it or not, African Penguins are listed as “Endangered” under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. As an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited facility, Adventure Aquarium takes part in AZA’s Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program that oversees the population management of select species, including African Penguins, to enhance conservation of species in the wild.

Each year, breeding season kicks off at Adventure Aquarium in the beginning of September and goes through mid-January. The aquarium decides the number of chicks to add based on our institutional needs and the needs of SSP.

Like chickens, penguins can lay infertile eggs. If they don’t ‘sit’ on a nest and incubate eggs, the female will keep trying to produce an egg which can be very taxing as you can imagine. In accordance with AZA’s SSP guidelines, some penguin couples sit on “dummy” eggs to allow them to go through a normal incubation period, ultimately limiting the number of eggs produced in a season by one female. This also allows these penguins to act as foster parents, if necessary.

During the 2020 African Penguin breeding season, Adventure Aquarium was thrilled to welcome three chicks, bringing our African penguins colony roster to 51. Five couples nested, with three couples sitting on “dummy” eggs, and two sitting on fertile eggs. During the incubation period, which is usually between 38 to 42 days, parents took turns sitting on the eggs. Once an egg begins to hatch it usually takes 24 to 48 hours to fully hatch.
 
Baby Penguins
Hatched just days apart were brothers “Shark” (no. 54) and “Ray” (no. 55) to experienced parents, Taki (no. 18) and Tatu (no. 17). First time parents, Rocky (no. 50) and Cassie (no. 14), had one egg which hatched on Nov. 22. This chick is particularly special as he will be named via an online poll after an area-hospital to pay tribute to our firstline heroes fighting COVID-19. “Cooper” or “Jefferson” will be no. 56.
Baby Penguin
In the first days after hatching, weight gain is critical. Biologists record weight looking for a 10 percent weight gain daily. Our veterinarian does frequent wellness checkups listening to their heartbeats and observing their overall health. At this time, chicks are only handled once a day by humans for checkups.
As you probably know, penguin parents do feed their chicks by regurgitating their meals (yum), but our biologists begin feeding them small fish, like silversides, capelin and filets of herring, around 3 to 4 weeks old in order for the penguins to become familiarized with being fed by humans. Depending on their mobility and muscle control, typically around 1 month old (or when they are 1,000 grams), the penguins leave their parent’s nest. At this stage, the penguins begin receiving vitamins with their meals.
 
Now, it’s time to meet the other chicks that were hatched during the same breeding season. The penguins look grey and fluffy, and begin to lose their down coat revealing gray-blue juvenile feathers. This is considered their first molt. Chicks will not start swimming until their feathers are fully grown-in since their “chick fluff” weighs them down in the water as it is not waterproof.
 
Baby Penguin
With age, their feathers will darken to black, and they will slowly be introduced to the adults in the colony. Like any kid, it does take them a little bit of time to become comfortable with the adults.


Next up? Penguin Swimming Lessons. We have a feeling they’ll be naturals.