A unique penguin chick named Sea-cat made its formal exhibit debut at the New England Aquarium on Wednesday morning.

This 2-month-old southern rockhopper chick was raised by New England Aquarium’s biologists after its parents could not keep up with its needs when it was 20 days old.

Rockhopper Chick Debut!

Eric Fox, the Aquarium’s penguin exhibit manager, explained, “The penguin staff closely monitor every chick’s growth, the parents’ appetite, and parents’ interest in feeding the chick. Despite their experience raising chicks in the past, these parents were not able to keep up with the needs of the chick. The penguin staff decided to step in to hand-raise this particular chick earlier than we normally do in order to give it the best chance for success.” 

Now more than 2 months old, this confident and mischievous juvenile has a cute goofiness that is high even by the elevated bar of penguin chick standards. Thankfully, it is plucky and resilient.

Behind the Scenes with Rockhopper Penguin Chick

Raising young in the penguin world is incredibly demanding as it is a 60- to 90-day sprint for two parents while a chick goes from weighing a couple of ounces at hatch to 5 or 6 pounds when ready to be on its own. With the penguin parents, Fuego II and Pebble II, unable to keep up, the Aquarium’s dedicated penguin biologists needed to intervene, working long hours feeding, swimming, and caring for the chick. A penguin plush was also kept with the chick.

rockhopper penguin chip with plush
The rockhopper penguin chick and its plush

Despite raising more than hundreds of chicks over the past two decades, it is a rare event when the Aquarium’s penguin staff have had to act as surrogates. When our biologists first started caring for the chick, they fed it formula (a blend of herring fillets and krill) four times a day to insure it was growing the way a healthy penguin would.

The chick was 64 days old before it first took a test-swim with the Aquarium’s rockhopper colony. That first foray was only for about 20 minutes. Now, this youngster is gradually being brought on exhibit for longer and longer periods of time as it and the adults become familiar with each other, and it is doing very well.

rockhopper penguin chick gets weighed
The new southern rockhopper penguin chick gets weighed.

The chick has yet to be given a name. Its eventual name will highlight some aspect of rockhopper penguin conservation, such as the name of a breeding island.

Visitors to the Aquarium’s large penguin colony might recall rockhoppers as the penguins with the yellow feathers on the crests of their head. This chick won’t get its characteristic yellow fringe until it is 18 months old (its first molt). In the wild, rockhoppers are most commonly seen in the far southern regions of Chile and Argentina and in sub-Antarctic islands. Unfortunately, most penguin species have seen populations drop significantly, and equivalently, the southern rockhopper population has declined 30% over the past 30 years. They are listed internationally as having a “vulnerable” status. Their principal threats are overfishing, oil spills and disrupted food availability due to climate change. The rockhopper diet includes small fish, krill and squid.

dad with rockhopper penguin chick
The chick can be seen between the legs of the adult penguin.

Photos of chick growing up 

Conservation Context

Southern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome) breed on rugged, rocky islands located in the sub-Antarctic and south temperate regions of the Indian and South Atlantic oceans. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, African penguins are vulnerable. Pollution, climate change, overfishing, and shifts in fish populations are taking food sources away from southern rockhopper penguins. Their cousins, northern rockhopper penguins, are classified as endangered, which is a higher risk of extinction, because they face similar food shortages in addition to introduced predators such as rats on their breeding islands. Rockhopper penguins have been disappearing from the southern oceans.
The Aquarium’s dedicated and talented penguin biologists have raised hundreds of penguins over the years helping to populate many other aquariums and zoos around North America with these immensely popular animals and other penguin species. Maintaining a sustainable population of southern rockhopper penguins is done under the supervision of a closely coordinated Species Survival Plan that insures genetic diversity.

Learn more about the Aquarium’s penguins