The two juvenile Magellanic Penguin chicks, at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, recently slipped into the water of their on-exhibit pool and excitedly darted from end to end.
Members of the adult Penguin colony stood watch on the rocks above, squawking loudly, acting as black-and-white sentries warily guarding their turf from these upstart juveniles. “That’s normal behavior,” staff biologist Amanda Shaffer said. “Eventually, the adults will welcome the younger Penguins into their midst.”
In just 12 weeks, the chicks have grown from fuzzy balls, weighing just under 6 ounces, to recognizable Penguins almost as large as the adults from whose eggs they hatched.
According to zoo staff, the chicks have been off exhibit for a few weeks, gaining strength, getting accustomed to feeding schedules, and growing the coarse feathers and stiff wings needed for swimming. Point Defiance zookeepers have kept careful watch over the brother-and-sister pair as they learned to swim.
The siblings are now on-exhibit daily in the Penguin Point habitat at the zoo.
ZooBorns eagerly shared news and adorable pics of the Penguin siblings when their birth was announced earlier in the summer: “Point Defiance Zoo Welcomes Magellanic Penguin Chicks”.
The chicks broke out of their shells on May 23 and May 25 and are the first Magellanic Penguins to hatch at the zoo since 2006.
The little Penguins aren’t given names. They are known by the colors of the bands on their wings. These two are the offspring of mother “Pink” and father “Red.” The male chick is banded as “Red/White” and the female is “Pink/Black.”
Point Defiance Zoo’s Penguin colony now numbers a total of ten: five males and five females.
“I’m pleased with their progress,” said Shaffer, the zoo’s lead Penguin keeper. “They are healthy and they did great while learning to dive into the off-exhibit pool, swim and then pull themselves out.”
Several adult Penguins joined the two juveniles in the Penguin Point pool during their initial morning swim. But by afternoon, the adults were all back on their rocks, getting some sun, while the chicks swam placidly in the water, occasionally chasing one another, dipping quickly underwater and then surfacing, sometimes playfully rolling over, exposing their creamy bellies.
Though now close to the size of the adults, they are easy to differentiate from their parents and the rest of the colony. The adult’s bodies are midnight black, and they have distinctive white markings around their heads, on their chests and down their sides. The juveniles are still more grayish than black, and their “white” feathers are not as bright as their elders, so there’s no stark contrast between what will eventually be their “tuxedo” features.
The chicks are the result of a breeding recommendation through the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus). Their parents were part of a rescue program several years ago.
The medium-sized Penguins, native to the South American shores of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil, are listed as “Near-threatened” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Penguins are threatened in the wild by a number of factors, including the spills of oil and other hazardous materials and overfishing.
They also are threatened by the growing amount of plastic in the world’s ocean. Scientists estimate that some 8 million tons of plastic – the equivalent of a truckload every minute – finds its way into the seas, most of it washed there from rivers and storm-water runoff.
“Gertrude the Penguin”, an 8-foot, 6-inch tall, 1,500 sculpture built entirely from plastic that washed up on Northwest beaches, is a testament to that fact. She stands near the entry to Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington, and is one of 10 larger-than-life sculptures of sea creatures that are part of the Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea exhibit now on display. The sculptures dot zoo grounds and will be on exhibit through October 21.
Oregon artist, Angela Haseltine Pozzi, created the sculptures and sends them as traveling exhibits around the United States to graphically illustrate the growing problem of plastics in the ocean. The plastic threatens all sea life, with some animals becoming entangled in it. Others, particularly sea birds and fish, ingest the colorful, tiny pieces of micro plastic that are ground up by ocean currents. Unfortunately, plastic becomes part of the food chain.
Among the improbable items that were used to create “Gertrude” are a cell phones, brushes, tire parts, a car bumper and Styrofoam – all human creations that found their way into the sea and then washed up on a beach.
To learn more about plastics in the ocean and Washed Ashore, go to: www.pdza.org/washedashore .