Geriatric penguins produce baby blue
22 Oct 2008
Only 16-days-old and as yet un-named, a little blue penguin has everyone clucking at the Penguin Encounter in Christchurch's International Antarctic Centre.
It's the centre's first successful hatching since opening two years ago, and made even more amazing considering the parentage - an old, fat, lazy father and a mother who was thought to be a male.
The smallest species of penguin does not tend to breed easily in captivity, and incubating the eggs in the past had failed. But nature took over, and now the centre staff are thrilled with the unexpected arrival.
"At the moment it's just an eating machine," said penguin ranger Sally Rogers.
"It's a third the size of its parents already. It's like a giant butt with a head ... and some big feet."
'Baby blue', whose sex is so far unknown, was born to father 'Fats' - described as the centre's "fattest and laziest" penguin, and mother Zane - who keepers thought was a male until she "hooked up with Fats and laid an egg".
Because the reproductive organs of the penguins are all internal, DNA is normally used to identify the gender.
"They are both pretty old as well, so it's quite an unusual combination," Rogers said.
Fats is 16 years old and Zane is 12. Most penguins in the wild live to about seven or eight.
The happy couple created a nest out of cabbage tree leaves and took turns sitting on two eggs for 36 days.
The centre has had six more eggs laid, and expects up to four more births in the coming weeks.
It is hoped the new arrival will remain at the centre, but because its parents are originally from the North Island, 'baby blue' will require a permit from the Department of Conservation.
The little blue penguin lives in the wild throughout New Zealand, and thrives in areas that are predator-free.
New Zealand Penguin Encounter
The Penguin Encounter is New Zealand's first combined indoor - outdoor penguin viewing area.
Modelled on the local Banks Peninsula area, the natural themed environment is focused around a penguin life support area and an 80,000-litre pool, and allows visitors to see the population of up to 26 penguins from two levels.
Encounter penguins have all been rescued for reasons such as physical disabilities that would normally prevent them from surviving on their own, and many have been cared for since they were chicks.
Little blue penguins
The smallest penguin in the world, the little blue stands just 25cm tall and weighs about 1kg. Its plumage is slate-blue with a bright white belly, and it lacks any type of crest.
Little blue penguins (kororā) come ashore under the cover of darkness and live underground in burrows, natural holes, or under human structures and buildings. They remain around their colony all year, although they may make foraging trips of more than 70km during the non-breeding period.
At risk from disturbance by humans, dogs, cats and other predators, little blue penguins mostly no longer breed near towns and cities, though there are still colonies near Oamaru, on the South Island's eastern coast, and Wellington, in south of the North Island.
Where predator control is in place, populations have been stable or increasing.
Although they are the most abundant and widespread of the three penguin species breeding on the New Zealand mainland, little blue penguins illustrate important messages about seabird conservation in New Zealand and the risks faced by foreshore ecosystems.
These topics may also be of interest to you