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Penguin chicks stretch their wings at the New England Aquarium

Penguin chicks up close at the New England Aquarium

Penguin chicks peek over at the New England Aquarium

Penguin chicks at the New England Aquarium

Boston, MA - August 31, 2007
If the Aquarium's penguin staff look sleep deprived, they have good reason as they have hatched and raised nine new penguin chicks over the summer. That is a record for the Aquarium.

The first penguin chicks of the season were two little blue penguins (native to Australia) that have already joined the Aquarium's penguin exhibit. The African penguins started nesting in the early summer, and they have produced seven new birds including five chicks that are now several weeks old and are nearly as tall as an adult. These cute, goofy puff balls are in various stages of losing their grey downy coats and acquiring their slick juvenile feathers.

Two more African chicks are just a couple of weeks old and are still being reared under the watchful eyes of their parents. The new penguin chicks will be gradually introduced to the 65 other penguins in our exhibit throughout September and October.

Producing a penguin chick is a long term process that requires intensive work on the part of the Aquarium’s penguin biologists Heather Urquhart, Paul Leonard, Caitlin Hume and their dedicated interns and volunteers. Penguins are usually monogamous and pick an exclusive mate. Sometimes, they are attracted to another penguin that might be too closely related. In that case, the penguin matchmaker might intervene and introduce the penguin to a more appropriate mate in a behind the scenes holding area. Thankfully, this romantic manipulation has been quite successful.

As the nesting season began in the late spring, biologists opened up the burrows in the public exhibit. The penguin pairs then became a little more territorial and readied themselves for parenting. At that point, Aquarium staff pulled some of the prospective parent pairs off exhibit and brought them to the penguin holding area in the Aquarium's basement. There, each of the penguin couples laid two eggs and incubated them for 40 days. Once the chicks hatched, the parents cared for them for about 30 days.

After a month, Aquarium biologists started hand feeding the chicks so that they became used to the routine in the exhibit and do not remain dependent on the parent. At this crucial growth stage, chicks are fed 10% of their body weight twice a day. They can increase their body weight by a third in 48 hours. Humans are advised NOT to try this at home!

By 60 days, chicks are often the size of adults but do not have the same colored plumage as their parents. African penguin chicks lack the distinct white head stripes of their elders and sport a grayish top. Between two and three months, the chicks are introduced to the large exhibit in a series of progressively longer swims. If ready, chicks can be put on exhibit fulltime at three months of age.

This penguin baby boom is important as it helps increase the number and genetic diversity of penguins being held in aquariums and zoos. This population can act as a DNA reservoir for threatened or endangered species in the case of a precipitous population decline in the wild. Penguin populations can be vulnerable to calamitous events in the wild as they are high density colony nesters. In recent years, oil spills, gigantic iceberg barriers and geographic shifts in fish stocks that penguins feed on have had major impacts on different penguin populations across the world.

Penguin biologists from aquariums and zoos across North America coordinate their breeding efforts each year. In some cases, they will swap animals or eggs to increase genetic diversity. In recent years, the New England Aquarium sent several penguins to the new Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco to help establish a new penguin colony there.

For all things penguin, visit our penguin exhibit pages.

Located on the Boston waterfront, the New England Aquarium is one of the most prominent and popular aquariums in the United States. Its mission is “to present, promote, and protect the world of water.” Beyond its exhibit halls, the Aquarium is also a leading ocean conservation organization with research scientists working around the globe and biologists rescuing stranded marine animals in New England.

Sappi Fine Paper is the proud corporate conservation sponsor of the New England Aquarium’s penguin exhibit.