Sunday 4 December 2016

Penguins in breeding plan to p-p-pick up a partner

Published 21/03/2011 | 05:00

Penguin keeper Rebecca Thornton helps her charges settle in at Oceanworld in Dingle
Penguin keeper Rebecca Thornton helps her charges settle in at Oceanworld in Dingle

IT'S not that easy to p-p-pick up a penguin when the female of the species is quite choosy about her mate.

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Although it's coming up to mating season, four female gentoo penguins may not be satisfied with the choice of two males in their tiny colony.

They're the latest arrivals at the Oceanworld Aquarium in Dingle and will form part of its penguin polar exhibition that opens in April.

"The girls can be quite picky so we're not too hopeful they'll breed successfully this year," said penguin keeper Rebecca Thornton.

"The more penguins you have, the easier it is to breed and we're expecting four more from France in the coming weeks and we're hoping to up the colony to 20 in September."

When they mate, gentoos tend to be monogamous and will stick to the one partner for the season.

Hatching the eggs and fishing for food are key tasks that are shared among both parents and if 'he' doesn't pull his weight, she will find a new mate for the next season.

They lay two eggs each season but usually only one chick survives. The eggs are laid three days apart.

They hatch together but the parents concentrate their efforts on the stronger chick.

At the Dingle Aquarium, Rebecca and her colleagues will have the job of keeping the second chick alive also.

The new €750,000 extension to the Co Kerry aquarium will house the first gentoo penguins to go on display in the State. They already feature at Belfast Zoo.

The exhibition area will be refrigerated and maintained at polar temperatures and an ice-maker will ensure it replicates the penguins' natural environment.

"The exhibition area has a capacity for up to 40 so they'll have plenty of room for swimming.

"They're built for the water and are the fastest swimming birds in the world, reaching speeds of 35km an hour.

"The new arrivals have already made themselves at home and are beginning to come out of their shells.

"They're quite shy more than anything but they do get to know people and when I come in here on my own they come up to me but when I introduce someone new they huddle in the corner," Rebecca added.

"But you can build up a relationship with a penguin and when they're in the new area and get used to people looking at them they'll be great fun to watch playing, jumping around and swimming."

The walls of the new exhibition area feature an arctic landscape mural painted by artist Greg Winter.

The facility will also house an exhibition on Arctic explorers Ernest Shackleton, Robert Scott, Patrick Keohane and Tom Crean, the latter who was born and died within 10 miles of the aquarium at Annascaul.

Irish Independent

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