Academy hatches penguin in Golden Gate Park

April 9, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Inside the African penguin exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, there's a new face.

"This is the first chick we've hatched here in the new building at the Steinhart Aquarium," said Academy biologist Erin Jessup.

It has taken academy staff weeks to get him ready for his debut. While he's starting to look like the other penguins in his colony, he was just a puff of soft feathers when we checked in on him a couple weeks ago. Only ABC7 News was there when he got a check-up.

"It looks like the chick is in good body condition, being fed well by the parents. The feather coat looks good, good growth all the way around," said Academy veterinarian Freeland Dunker.

At just 36 days old. This yet-to-be-named male penguin got a clean bill of health.

"The bird passes with flying colors. We're in good shape," said Dunker.

The young penguin is already showing signs of growing up. He is starting to shed his soft down feathers for stiff, adult feathers. Jessup says, "Over the next few weeks, it will continue to grow those feathers."

Jessup has been keeping a close eye on this little guy since he hatched. She will be helping to wean him from his parents. "African penguins, these chicks, do leave their parents on their own," said Jessup.

We checked back in on him when he was 57 days old. His parents Robben and Ty were still feeding him.

"You can see that he still has a little bit of his down, but it's being replaced by his juvenile plumage. Once he's fully feathered, what we call fledged, with his juvenile plumage, he'll be fully water-proofed and fully able to swim." said Jessup.

But that didn't keep Jessup from giving the new penguin a swimming lesson. It's a strange new experience for a bird that'll soon be joining the other penguin on exhibit, diving into the water.

After testing out the water, he's eager to get back to the comfort of mom and dad. Last week, he was showing signs of being a little more independent. With a little help, he's now eating solid food. It's a good sign he'll start eating on his own, it also means he's ready to meet the other penguins in the colony.

Academy biologists are on hand just in case other penguin gang up on this newcomer. He'll be at the bottom of the pecking order. But this little guy is showing signs that he'll be OK. He's a confident swimmer, but a little timid around the colony. But with any luck it won't be long before the new guy has a chick of his own.

"African penguins are endangered in the wild. We want to do our best to have a healthy population. The way to do that is that we track the DNA and recommend and encourage breeding among pairs that are genetically diverse," said Jessup. "So that a hundred years from now, we still have a very healthy population."

So what will his name be? That's up to you. The California Academy of Sciences is holding a contest to name the new penguin. The winner will receive a painting created by the new penguin, with a little artistic direction from academy staff.

Name the Penguin Chick Contest:
The public can enter the Academy's Name the Penguin Chick Contest, which runs April 10 through April 30. Academy staff will select the top three names based on originality and connection to the Academy's mission to explore, explain and sustain life, including the African penguin SSP program. The final three names will be put out to public vote, and the winning name will be announced during a naming ceremony in May.

Visitors outside of the San Francisco Bay Area can view the new chick via the Academy's online Penguin Cam or by downloading the Pocket Penguins mobile app, where live feedings are broadcast daily at 10:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., PT.

Cal Academy Name the Penguin Chick Contest runs April 10 - April 30
Enter a name: Name the Penguin Chick Contest
**If you get a message saying this site is offline, try again on Wednesday. The contest starts on April 10, 2013.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel


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