Searching desperately for a sign of spring during these dreary, cold continually winter days?
Look no further. Two words: baby penguins.
Four little blue penguin chicks recently hatched at the New England Aquarium. On Tuesday, the chicks had their public debut, though staff members say it will still be a little while longer before they join the aquarium’s colony.
Normally found in southern Australia and New Zealand, little blue penguins are the smallest of the species. The chicks are between 30 and 50 days old and still covered with a soft fluff to keep them warm. Their sleek waterproof feathers are just beginning to emerge; they work like interlocking shingles on a roof to keep water from reaching their skin.
“They only take about two months to be fully grown,” said Julie Larson, 28, a penguin biologist at the aquarium. “We let the parents raise them up until that point.”
On Tuesday morning, Larson and others got to work weighing the chicks, feeding them, and providing their early morning health check. Despite the occasional bite or wing slap from a penguin, this is Larson’s dream job. More than 90 penguins call the aquarium home.
Staff members expect an average of eight to 12 hatchlings from various species, beginning with the little blue penguins during early winter and followed soon after by African penguins and Rockhopper penguin chicks, according to Tony LaCasse, spokesman for the aquarium.
“They all have very unique personalities. We know each and every penguin in our exhibit,” Larson said. “They all look different to those of us here full time.”
Sometimes, a penguin biologist has to play penguin matchmaker each breeding season to make sure that genetically diverse penguins become mating pairs that produce viable offspring.
“We’ll slowly introduce them to each other,” Larson said. “We’ll play some vocalization recordings, like some mood music for them. Get them to like each other, get used to each other, and once they have formed that bond we give them the nesting material to go do what they do.”
It takes time to introduce new penguins to the rest in the colony, as penguins are naturally territorial. But after several visits, they’re placed with the others and receive their names.
“All of our penguins have names that tell us something about penguins,” Larson said.
There are two African penguins named after two penguin islands off the coast of Namibia. One is called “Roast Beef” after Roast Beef Island. The other is known as “Plum Pudding” after Plum Pudding Island. According to lore, these land masses reminded homesick and hungry sailors of familiar holiday meals, LaCasse said.
It’s unknown what staff will decide to call these chicks, but their arrival is a clear sign from Mother Nature. Fear not, Boston: Spring is on its way.Cristela Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.