The Aquarium of the Pacific released its yet unnamed penguin chick this week into its June Keyes Penguin Habitat to interact with other penguins and swim for the first time. However, the chick’s story begins with its mother Roxy and her journey to the aquarium.
Roxy, a Magellanic penguin, was rescued from the coasts of Brazil and brought to the Aquarium of the Pacific, where she has been for nearly seven years. She began a family in her permanent habitat at the aquarium with another penguin, Floyd, and little did the parents know that several years later their family would continue to grow.
Generally, Brazil is not the penguin breed’s natural habitat, but, according to Jimmy Chapman, a senior mammalogist at the Aquarium of the Pacific, Roxy was an exception.
“The mom of the chick, Roxy, was stranded in Brazil and needed to be placed in the facility because she couldn’t be released because of health reasons,” Chapman said. “So, we adopted her here, and now she’s doing great, and this is her fifth chick.”
On Aug. 8 her fifth chick waddled and swam for the first time at the aquarium’s penguin habitat, while reuniting with its mother.
Shortly before Roxy and Floyd were reunited Tuesday, Chapman was more than ready for the family reunion to happen.
“I think that Roxy is going to recognize the chick and it’s going to be exciting to see the chick go on exhibit today,” he said. “This is going to be during the feeding session, so […] Roxy always comes up to the door when we are getting ready to feed in the morning and we are going to get the chick near her just to see. And I think they are going to recognize [each other], so it will be the first time he or she has seen its mom.”
However, it was not the first time the baby and its parents had been together.
After a 28-day incubation period that had involved Roxy and Floyd, the penguin chick had finally hatched on May 22.
The incubation period, Chapman explained, alternates between the male and the female nesting on the egg. During this period, the egg cannot be left stationary and must be kept at a certain temperature. When the egg starts to “pip,” or crack, the parents know that their chick will hatch soon.
Chapman said the chick was fortunate enough to have protective parents like Roxy and Floyd during incubation.
“Some of the parents here are really good parents, like the ones of this chick [while] some of the parents, after maybe a week or so, […] are not as interested, and that’s when [the Aquarium of the Pacific would] come in to pull the chick. That’s what we call it, and we take [the egg] and put it in the incubator,” he said. “We have to give [the chick] food at certain temperatures. It’s blended food because the parents will eat fish and then regurgitate it to the chick.”
However, this was not the case for Roxy, Floyd and the chick, and the aquarium did not have to step in to assist the family of penguins.
After hatching, the chick began its fledging process and transformation from its baby stages to becoming an adolescent before being able to be let loose in the exhibit.
“It’s gotten rid of its down and baby feathers,” he said. “The plumage is now subadult plumage [with] brand new feathers as of a couple of weeks ago, so it is ready for the water and ready to swim.”
The chick’s fledging process took place in a behind-the-scenes nursery, and it was here that the chick learned how to swim and eat hand-fed, whole fish.
Sara Mandel, an aviculturist at the aquarium, led the ceremony of reuniting the chick with its family and friends in the June Keyes Penguin Habitat and explained the life of an average Magellanic penguin in the wild.
“This chick is still very, very young,” Mandel said. “In its natural habitat, it would be living off and on in the burrow and nest.”
These penguins are a temperate species and are normally found in coastal Chile, Argentina and the Falkland Islands while few, like Roxy, migrate to Brazil.
“[Magellanic penguins] would excavate a burrow in the rock work, and the June Keyes Penguin Habitat simulates that area,” Chapman said. “They would go out [and] feed. These guys average between six to 10 fish a day, depending on the time of year. After they go through their molt, then they are going to eat a little more for a while and then they will start to slow down a little bit before breeding season.”
Mandel explained that then, after the adolescent stage in the penguin’s life, the molting process will begin.
“Some [of the penguins] are going to go through their annual molt very soon. Penguins have to go through an annual molt once a year. It is called a catastrophic molt,” she said. “It is one of my favorite adaptations that they have, but it makes it really strange when you are used to a penguin chick looking like this for about eight to 10 months of his or her life and then all of a sudden looking like an adult.”
The penguin chick, although not quite ready for its annual molt, was certainly ready to interact for the first time with its parents and siblings, Skipper, Lily, Heidi and Anderson.
Mandel and Chapman both explained that they did have to prepare and desensitize the chick before releasing it to finally become a penguin of the June Keyes Penguin Habitat.
“This is the time where it makes its debut, not just to the public but to the rest of the colony,” Chapman said. “So, we have to monitor and watch, some of the younger males and females will not necessarily pick on [the penguin], but it is going to have to […] learn how to be an adult pretty quick. It is going to have to learn where its place is. It will form a bond with the younger group, possibly, and then it will eventually form a bond with a male.”
As the chick first entered its new habitat, it made sure to interact with everything in its way while waddling along with Mandel closely by its side.
“You can notice how inquisitive or curious our chick is,” she said. “They are a prey species, which is pretty remarkable because this chick is navigating around these cameras like a pro, and this chick has never seen cameras before.”
The chick currently has not been named, and aquarium staff are waiting on a blood test to determine its gender. However, until the results come back, Chapman explained that the crew will combine the name of the parents, in this case Roxy and Floyd, as a temporary nickname for the chick.
Additionally, the chick is a part of the aquarium’s Adopt an Animal Program.
“At the aquarium, we have several adopt-an-animal programs for pretty much all the animals here,” Chapman said. “For adopt-an-animal for this chick, you’ll qualify for a feeding and enrichment session with the penguins on exhibit.”
The penguin chick’s adoption begins at $100, and the adoption process must be finished by Sept. 30. Visit aquariumofpacific.org/give/adopt_an_animal.
The following are more pictures of the penguin chick swimming in its habitat.