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First Swimming Lesson for Humboldt Penguin Chicks at London Zoo

  • July 4, 2024
  • 3 min read
First Swimming Lesson for Humboldt Penguin Chicks at London Zoo

11 young Humboldt penguin chicks have made a splash as they took their first swimming lesson at London Zoo’s nursery penguin pool last week. The penguins, named McVitie, Swiftie, Gonzo, Pepe, Beaker, Coco, Bob, Thérèse, Randall, Hanbury, and Medici, hatched at Penguin Beach in April. They were now ready for their inaugural dip in the shallow training pool.

According to Zookeeper Jessica Ray, “Penguin chicks spend the first couple of months of their lives covered in very soft, downy feathers. They look very cute and fluffy, but aren’t able to swim straight away. At around 6-12 weeks old, those feathers are replaced by stiff, waterproof black and white feathers, which are perfect for swimming with.”

Jessica described the initial moments: “The penguins all started by tentatively inspecting our small nursery pool: looking at the water, walking towards the edge, walking away, coming back. The water’s brand new to them, so we were expecting the chicks to be apprehensive. They seem to have gotten past that initial apprehension quickly and we’ve already got some very proficient swimmers in the group!”

She added, “They have each been approaching the water differently and completely at their own pace. Some are very fast learners; some just like to splash around in the water; some need a bit more time before they learn to swim. It’s just like human toddlers learning to crawl: each chick’s development is different.”

Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) are native to coastal Peru and Chile and are excellent swimmers, with paddle-like wings acting as flippers that propel them through the water at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. However, Jessica mentioned, “These youngsters won’t be reaching 30 miles per hour speeds just yet, but we’re really pleased with the progress they’re making so far!”

Once they are strong enough, the 11 chicks will move into the main penguin pool, where they’ll join the rest of the Humboldt penguin colony. The 500,000-litre pool, the largest in England, will provide ample space for the young penguins to reach their full swimming potential.

To prepare them for this milestone, the chicks have enjoyed VIP treatment from the Penguin team, including a bespoke diet of fish milkshakes made from blended sprats, saline, and vitamins. This diligent hand-rearing ensures the young penguins are in optimal health and ready for their swimming lessons.

Humboldt penguins are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with their numbers declining due to factors such as disturbance from guano harvesting, pollution from oil spills, and overfishing.

Visitors can witness the penguin chicks learning to swim this summer at London Zoo. Additionally, families can explore the fascinating world of wildlife waste in the “Poo at the Zoo” exhibition, promising heaps of fun and education.

For more details, visit the official London Zoo website.

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