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Kerry's penguin baby boom stuns marine biologists

Aquarium in a flutter as colony grows by 50pc

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Marine biologist Dr Kevin Flannery and head aquarist Maria Foley with one of the five penguin chicks at Dingle Oceanworld. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Marine biologist Dr Kevin Flannery and head aquarist Maria Foley with one of the five penguin chicks at Dingle Oceanworld. Photo: Domnick Walsh

One of the five Humboldt penguin chicks born recently at Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium in Kerry. Photo: Domnick Walsh

One of the five Humboldt penguin chicks born recently at Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium in Kerry. Photo: Domnick Walsh

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Marine biologist Dr Kevin Flannery and head aquarist Maria Foley with one of the five penguin chicks at Dingle Oceanworld. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Three penguin couples have become the proud parents of five fluffy chicks after a baby boom among Kerry’s new penguin colony.

The couples expertly brooded over their eggs for 45 days at the start of the summer before the arrivals – one after the other – over the past two weeks.

The colony of 10 Humboldt penguins – who are all named after different types of cheeses – arrived at their new enclosure in Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium last year. And over the last two weeks their colony has grown by 50pc with the new additions.

“They’re balls of fluff,” said Dingle Oceanworld director Kevin Flannery.

“They’re cuddly too. They were about four inches when they were born, and have grown to about a foot already.

“One pair is about 14 days old, another pair are about 10 days old and the other one is about eight or nine days old.

“It’s going to be a penguin crèche. In four or five weeks’ time they’ll be moving around outside, and there’ll be a clutch of them together.”

There were hopes that Cheddar, Red, Blue, Brie and the rest of their colony would produce offspring after they were sent to the Kingdom from Newquay Zoo in Cornwall as part of a European breeding programme helping to conserve their species.

However, Mr Flannery says they have been stunned by the two sets of twins and the single chick born to a third penguin couple.

“It’s phenomenal. Usually, only one of the chicks would survive, or only one of the eggs would hatch, so two sets doing that is just brilliant. And to have them healthy and putting on quite a bit of weight is great,” he said.

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“They’re rapidly growing. We have five chicks and they come from three couples – Blue and Brie, Red and Babybel, and Winslade and Gary – who came to us from Cornwall. They were hatching them over the last 45 days.

“This is their first batch, and they were very successful. They built their own nests in nest boxes.”

The challenges of breeding almost any wild animal in captivity are widely recognised – but Mr Flannery believes the generous donation of fresh sprat to the colony by a local fishing boat, the Fiona K, was one of the ingredients to their success.

“It is has always been hard to breed anything in captivity. We‘re in a fishing port and one of the fishing vessels donated up to 40 tonnes of fresh fish for them. So that might have an influence on their diet and their healthiness.”

The penguins are staying true to character when it comes to being hands-on dads, as males famously take an almost equal parenting role in the raising of the chick.

The marine biologist said new-born chicks are always a boost to the species which are endangered around the world.

“All populations of penguins are under threat. You have overfishing, you have bird flu, you have various disease problems,” said Mr Flannery.

“To have a breeding population is brilliant. We have a stock book on each of them and they’ve been put on the register of Humboldt species.”


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