From Egg to Exhibit:
A Tale of a Little Blue Penguin
After a little blue penguin chick hatches from its egg, it takes about two months before it’s ready to swim alongside the adult penguins.
So how does the New England Aquarium, which is one of six locations in the United States where people can see little blue penguins, maintain its colony of the smallest penguin species in the world?
By hatching and raising these adorable, swimming birds, which can be found in the wild in Australia and New Zealand. And this is how we do it.
In late November, the Aquarium’s penguin team creates from one to eight pairs of males and females based on the size of our penguin colony and good breeding opportunities. Since some species of penguin are currently endangered in the wild, we work closely with partner organization within the Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) to identify pairs that are genetically suited through Species Survival Plan programs. These pairs will live behind the scenes, each with their own space and burrow, which is often just an overturned kitty litter container, to nest and, hopefully, lay eggs.
After a 36- to 38-day incubation period, during which both the male and female penguins take turns sitting on the eggs to keep them warm, the chicks hatch.
The chicks will then stay with their parents for about a month or two. During this time, the parents will eat small fish (we feed them a variety of fish such as capelin, herring, smelt, and sardines) and partially digest it before regurgitating it to the juvenile penguins.
After about another month, we return the parents to our exhibit so we can get the chicks used to being hand-fed by our staff.
While growing up behind the scenes, the chicks will go through two molts (shedding two types of down and then growing their first set of waterproof feathers). The chicks’ first down does not keep it warm, so the parents have to provide the heat. The second down is warmer, allowing both parents in the wild to leave their demanding chicks to gather enough food for them.
About two months after they hatch, the chicks, which are used to eating fish hand-fed to them by our staff, are ready to go on exhibit.
This past spring, we successfully hatched and raised four adorable little blue penguin chicks. Check out this link to learn more about the newest additions to our little blue penguin colony!