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Romance Blossoms as Penguins Say I-ce Do to Mark the Start of Mating Season

  • Wednesday 15th March 2023

Pebbles 1

Love is in the air at SEA LIFE London Aquarium this Spring as the attraction gets ready for the start of mating season in Penguin Point for its colony of Gentoos.

The colony has already been fully embracing its yearly mating season, with the birds displaying traditional courtship behaviours since the beginning of March which include bowing to each other and becoming more vocal as they reaffirm their bonds.

The next step in the penguin’s mating ritual is the sweet exchange of pebbles. Typically, the male birds will identify pebbles with which to build their nests, and present them to their prospective partners to not only win their love, but as a sign of their breeding credentials. Each bird has personal preferences for size and type of pebble, with some of the Gentoos having already been caught stealing pebbles from nearby nests in the hope of winning over their suitors.

For the attraction’s established couples, it is likely that they will return to the same nest site each year with the average penguin pair usually staying together for three full mating seasons. However, it’s not always guaranteed as females can be attracted to new males with more attractive qualities. For example, if a pair is unsuccessful with rearing a chick, then they may choose to find a new partner to help bring new life to the colony.

Whilst it is not yet known whether SEA LIFE London Aquarium’s colony will be welcoming a new arrival this summer, the team of expert aquarists and specialist vets are doing all they can to ensure the nesting season is as successful as possible.

If successful, eggs would be expected at the beginning of April, with the average incubation period being between 34-36 days. In the penguin world, both male and female Gentoos take turns sitting on and incubating the eggs.

Pebbles 2

Should the pitter patter of tiny feet be heard in Penguin Point, the new chick would join Gilbert, born in 2021 and named after English vaccinologist, Dame Sarah Gilbert and the first gender-neutral penguin, Ziggy.

Catherine Pritchard, SEA LIFE London Aquarium’s General Manager, said: "This is an exciting time of year for our Gentoo Penguins, and we are delighted to be able to offer visitors the chance to come and witness these incredible courtship rituals for themselves.

“At SEA LIFE London Aquarium, we’ve had a lot of previous success in rearing penguin chicks including Ziggy, Gilbert and Raducanu, named after British Tennis star, Emma Raducanu. The successful breeding at the aquarium is due in part to the strong European collaborative conservation programme that we at the London Aquarium is involved with. We hope that we’re able to continue that success into this year’s breading programme and that a new member of the colony is being welcomed in the not-too-distant future.”

Gentoo penguins are great ambassadors for all wildlife found on the Antarctic Peninsula, a location which is under great threat from climate change, microplastic pollution and the negative effects of human activity.

SEA LIFE London Aquarium, situated on the South Bank, is open seven days a week.

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