Birch Aquarium welcomes West Coast's first Little Blue Penguin chick
A Little Blue Penguin has hatched at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego for the first time, it was announced Thursday.
The chick emerged New Year's Day in the aquarium's Penguin Care and Conservation Center in Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins.
"Our team is beyond excited to welcome this adorable new addition to the Birch Aquarium family," said Kayla Strate, assistant curator of birds. "Our penguin colony is truly a diverse group, comprised of individuals from five different zoos and aquariums.
"While it took some time for our penguins to synchronize to the same San Diego schedule, we've created the ideal environment for our birds to thrive thanks to careful observations and adjustments to our breeding plans," she said. "Each breeding success makes a meaningful addition to the genetic diversity of Little Blue Penguin populations in the U.S."
The Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins habitat brought the world's smallest penguins to the West Coast for the first time in 2022. It was also the first seabird exhibit in the history of the aquarium. The 2,900-square-foot exhibit allows people to come face-to-face with the adorable animals as they "waddle, swim and glide about their new home," according to the aquarium.
This chick is also the first Little Blue Penguin to hatch on the West Coast.
"Birch Aquarium has significantly expanded its breeding and conservation efforts over the years," said Harry Helling, executive director of the aquarium. "The hatching of our first Little Blue Penguin chick is a major milestone for how today's aquariums can make a difference in a changing planet."
According to the aquarium, the chick will remain behind the scenes for now, as the first few months are crucial to its development. The chick is the offspring of Cornelius (male) and Pink/Black (female); however, it is being hand-raised by the aquarium's penguin care team, a labor-intensive task that requires expert-level avicultural skills, Strate said.
The sex of the chick will be announced soon.
"I'm so proud of everyone on the team for rising to the challenge," she said.
According to the chick's caretakers, in just less than a month, it has nearly tripled in size. During its first few weeks, it was fed a blended formula of fish, krill and vitamins. It's now alternating between formula and a few pieces of fish a few times a day and will soon graduate to eating whole fish.
The next significant milestone will be the chick's first molt. Currently it has fluffy down feathers, which are not waterproof, but will grow in a set of waterproof feathers in around three months, at which point it will be ready to join the rest of the Little Blue Penguin colony.
Scientists at the aquarium said they hope the chick's arrival will help inspire the public to protect the oceans. Warmer waters mean they must venture to colder, deeper waters to find food -- impacting the overall health of penguins, making it more difficult for them to nest and breed, a statement from the aquarium read.
"Penguins are impacted by climate change and are indicative of the health of the oceans," said Jenn Nero Moffatt, senior director of animal care, science and conservation at the aquarium. "It is critical that we not only protect wild populations but continue to maintain a healthy and genetically diverse population of Little Blue Penguins in human care. Our efforts provide sanctuary and serve as a repository for this important bird species."
Additional eggs are "currently developing behind the scenes," the aquarium statement read.