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New Year, New Baby: First Little Blue Penguin hatches at Birch Aquarium

LA JOLLA – For the first time, a Little Blue Penguin hatched at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego. The chick made its debut on 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. Our penguin colony is truly a diverse group, comprised of individuals from five different zoos and aquariums," Kayla Strate, assistant curator of birds, said. "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. Each breeding success makes a meaningful addition to the genetic diversity of Little Blue Penguin populations in the U.S."

This moment, years in the making, marks a remarkable milestone in the aquarium's penguin conservation efforts as well as cooperative breeding program efforts with other Association of Zoos and Aquariums institutions, according to the aquarium. The 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," Harry Helling, executive director of Birch Aquarium, said. "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."

For now, the chick will remain behind the scenes 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. The labor-intensive task requires expert-level avicultural skills, according to Strate. 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.

The chick is growing daily and fast, she said. In just less than a month it nearly tripled in size, growing from 29 to over 800 grams. 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 chick is currently covered in fluffy down feathers; however, these feathers are not waterproof. The next significant milestone will be the chick's first molt when it grows in a sleek set of waterproof feathers. At that time, in approximately three months, the penguin will be ready to join the rest of the colony in the exhibit.

The aquarium said it hopes that this new arrival helps inspire the public to continue to protect the planet as wild populations of Little Blue Penguins are facing numerous challenges from climate change. Warmer waters mean they must venture to colder, deeper waters to find food. This change significantly impacts the overall health of penguins, making it more difficult for them to nest and breed.

"Penguins are impacted by climate change and are indicative of the health of the oceans," Jenn Nero Moffatt, senior director of animal care, science and conservation at the aquarium, said. "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."

The aquarium said it is hopeful about welcoming more chicks in the future, as additional eggs are currently developing behind the scenes. Penguin enthusiasts can follow the aquarium's social media channels for the latest updates.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is located at 2300 Expedition Way in La Jolla. For more information, visit https://aquarium.ucsd.edu.

Submitted by Birch Aquarium at Scripps.

 

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