Amongst the parents of new chicks at Australia’s Sea Life Sydney Aquarium’s include famous same-sex penguin couple, Sphen and Magic, who have adopted and hatched their second egg. The parents made headlines in 2018 as the aquarium’s first Gentoo penguins to successfully incubate and raise a chick – a baby girl named Lara. A testament to their incredible parenting skills, Lara is a bright penguin who took part in this year’s breeding season by learning to build a nest and incubate eggs.
“We are beyond excited to welcome the new penguin chicks to our colony. They are doing really well and gaining weight. They started at around 95grams, now our oldest is almost 2kg and the youngest is sitting at around 399grams,” said Kerrie Dixon, Sea Life Sydney Aquarium Penguin Supervisor.
Sphen and Magic had caught the attention of aquarium staff when they were constantly seen waddling around and going for swims together. They then began to build a collective nest of pebbles, prompting the aquarium to provide a dummy egg for them to look after and, when they proved up to the task, a real egg.
The pair has bonded, Hannan, Sea Life’s penguin department supervisor, told AFP. “They recognise each other’s signature calls and songs. Only bonded penguins will be able to successfully find their partner using their calls when they are separated.”
Unlike many mammal species, male and female penguins take on the same parenting roles and share parental duties 50-50. “There is no real difference when it comes to breeding behaviours between males and females,” Hannan explained. So it “is common to have male-male or female-female showing courtship and breeding behaviour.”
In the wild, however, these courtships are unlikely to result in a chick, so they are normally short-lived, with the penguins becoming unsatisfied and looking for another partner.
The success of their previous chick has in all likelihood prompted them to stay together.
Same-sex couples and adoptive parents are well-documented in penguins. Earlier this year, female penguins Electra and Viola adopted a chick in the Oceanografic Aquarium in Valencia, Spain
Last year another female same-sex couple Marama and Rocky were given an adoptive egg to raise as their own in London’s Sea Life Centre. While more famously, male penguins Roy and Silo from Central Park Zoo attempted to incubate rocks until they were too given an adoptive egg. Their story, in particular, is well known as it was turned into a children’s book called And Tango Makes Three.
In Dingle, two female penguins, Penelope and Missy were declared Ireland’s first same-sex penguin couple back in 2014 but we’re still waiting to hear the pitter-patter of little flippers.
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