It’s flipping adorable.
Spring is finally here in Melbourne, which means that both the weather and our hearts are warming up. The gentoo penguins at Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium are certainly feeling romance in the air. They have all coupled up for nesting season, and two sets of couples at the aquarium are same-sex male penguins. Their names are Jones and Klaus, and Tiger and Branston, and they’re building their nests right next to each other.
According to Nicola Saville, Senior Bird Keeper at Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium, gentoo penguins actually start pairing off together early in the year. However, they never know who the penguins are going to make a nest with until nesting season arrives.
“Jones and Klaus took a little nest and Tiger and Branston took a nest next door,” Saville said. “So they most likely will be with each other for the rest of the season.
Nesting season began at the end of August and will continue on into November. During nesting season, gentoo penguins build their nests by collecting rocks. After the nest is complete, they lay their eggs, incubate them, and then raise their chicks.
According to Saville, seeing penguin couples of the same sex is not an uncommon sight. In the past, they have had a male pair of king penguins, Sebastian and Skipper, foster and raise a chick named Tango. However, two couples in one year is more unusual. “It’s a bit rare that we have two that are chilling out next to one another,” Saville said.
What about female same-sex couples? “Actually, we’ve only seen that with our king penguins,” said Saville. “If it’s a female pair, they will both lay eggs but they just won’t be fertile. And then they try trading eggs and it just doesn’t work out because they already have one,” she added with a laugh.
Of course, male pairs aren’t going to lay any eggs. For now, Tiger and Branston, and Jones and Klaus, are focusing on building their nests and being together. Romantic gestures include collecting pebbles and presenting it to one another. Penguins also like to bow and sing to one another to show affection.
“They even do that with the keepers as well which is really nice,” said Saville. “Sometimes you’ll be cleaning, and you’ll turn around and there’s a little penguin running to you that just really wants to sing to you.”
Is fatherhood in the future?
Fostering eggs is something that happens when necessary. The keepers watch the pairs of penguins and their eggs carefully. “Each pair will lay two eggs and sometimes, both of them are fertile. So if we don’t think they’re a strong enough couple to be able to raise two chicks, we might give one of those eggs to a foster pair,” said Saville.
There are no gender roles when it comes to gentoo penguins. Both males and females participate in nest building, and same-sex couples can certainly become foster parents.
However, it’s too early to tell if fatherhood is in the future for Jones and Klaus or Tiger and Branston. “We’re still observing them every day to see how they’re going with their nest building,” said Saville. “They’re doing ok, they’re doing pretty well! It just depends on if we’ll need to foster eggs.”
Unfortunately, with Melbourne in lockdown, we won’t be able to visit these male penguins at the aquarium any time soon. “Nothing has changed for us in terms of being penguin keepers,” said Saville. “But the saddest part is that we don’t have the public here, because it’s one of the most exciting times of the year when our gentoos are making their nests. So we’re keen to get people back in so they can come and see them.”
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