Who rules the roost in the Penguin Exhibit? It is certainly rockhopper penguin power couple Roxy and Grommet, with their two daughters Clax and Miss Harold Custard and young son Chippy-Goodwill. Penguins don't have surnames, but if they did, we are sure it would be "The Beakhams".

Come celebrate #PenguinWeek at the Two Oceans Aquarium from 23-29 April and stand the chance to win a face-to-face meeting with this rockhopper family!

Dad - Grommet

Grommet was rescued at Kleinbaai, near Hermanus in the Cape, in February 2000. After being rehabilitated at SANCCOB for a few months, Grommet was handed over to his new home* - the Two Oceans Aquarium in June 2000.

Grommet is definitely the dominant rockhopper penguin on the beach - loud and proud, when you hear the rockhoppers calling loudly to each other, you can be assured that Grommet probably started that ruckus! Grommet is known to be fiercely protective of Roxy, and regularly gets into scuffles with all the other penguins. He also makes the best nests of all the penguins at the Aquarium.

Because he is a rescued penguin, we cannot know Grommet's age for certain, but we estimate that he is about 25 years old. You can tell Grommet apart from the other rockhopper penguins by the many black spots on his feet.

Mom - Roxy

Roxy arrived at the Aquarium in 2003, another rescue handed over to us by SANCCOB. Unlike Grommet, she did not wash up on the South African coast, but was caught as bycatch by a fishing vessel. Roxy was handed to SANCCOB tangled in fishing wire and, because of these injuries, Roxy has a permanent notch near the tip of her left flipper. Luckily for Roxy, SANCCOB took excellent care of her! 

Like Grommet, Roxy is estimated to be about 25 years old. She is very graceful, and is always eager to follow Grommet around the beach, except when she has a chance to sunbathe! Although usually docile, she will push other penguins out of the way to get to her favourite snack - prawns! She can sometimes be a grumpy penguin, especially when moulting - this is a trait she clearly passed on to Clax.

Big sister - Clax

Clax was the first rockhopper penguin chick to hatch at the Two Oceans Aquarium. On 7 October 2014, she hatched - coincidentally at the same time as the huge new window was being installed in what was to become the I&J Ocean Exhibit. Because of this coincidence, we named her Clax - after Clax Italia, the company that made the giant window.

She is a feisty penguin. She likes to "human watch", always picking a spot on the beach that gives her the best view of the public, but she doesn't want to be touched (not even when we bring food). She does like food though, and she shows her excitement at feeding time by fluffing up her feathers to make herself more "puffy". She tries very hard to emulate her father, Grommet.

Clax is very special - she is the first northern rockhopper penguin to ever hatch in South Africa! 

Middle child - Miss Harold Custard

After our Clax experience, we made sure that the experts at SANCCOB would be on standby to help handle Roxy and Grommet's next chick. After being incubated by her parents, Miss Harold Custard's egg was handed over to the SANCCOB Chick Rearing Unit (CRU) where she took her first breath outside her egg on 23 September 2016.

The rockhopper penguins get a chance to swim daily in the large outdoor pool, where most of them get their daily exercise. Custard is the exception - she enjoys swimming in the small pool at the penguin beach the most. Whenever she is swimming and sees people watching her, she is quick to try and impress them with little porpoise jumps and big splashes. She clearly loves being the centre of attention (a limelight she is now jealous to share with her brother Chippy-Goodwill).

Custard has an unusual way of waddling - she "gallops" instead - almost what a human child would look like skipping. There is nothing wrong with Custard though, we think she is just pretending to be a human and trying to walk like us. When she was younger she went through a phase where she tried to mimic Rita the African oystercatcher by standing on one leg. Harold Custard is a ridiculous penguin!

Little brother - Chippy-Goodwill

Chippy-Goodwill is a very new addition to our penguin family - and is in an endless tug-o-war match with his sister Custard to see who can steal the limelight. They often get into synchronised braying contests to see who can make the most noise - something Custard usually wins, as Chippy doesn't have his adult voice yet.

This battle for the centre of attention goes even further - Chippy likes rock climbing more than his sister, and has chosen the highest point on the beach to be "his spot". He also complains a lot if he isn't fed first - he might not be aggressive like Grommet, but he certainly makes up for it with all the noise he produces!

Like his mom Roxy, Chippy loves sunbathing and can usually be seen standing next to Roxy with his flippers spread, soaking up the rays. 

Saving the rockhoppers

Just like our local African penguins, it is thanks to incredible organisations like SANCCOB that northern rockhopper penguins, and other exotic species that wash up on South African shores, have a chance to survive their ordeals. A sea journey of more than 2 500km is no small feat for a tiny penguin to undertake.

*Rockhopper penguins that wash up on the South African coast cannot ever be returned to the wild, for two main reasons:

  • There are several populations of northern rockhopper penguins, with the largest colonies being on the islands of Tristan da Cunha and Gough. Because there is no way to determine which population the stranded penguin once belonged too, there is no guarantee it will be released in the correct colony. This could damage the wild colony's gene pool.
  • The nearest rockhopper penguin colony to the South African coast is thousands of kilometres away - enough to protect them from pathogens and diseases that are present on the continent. Returning a penguin to their colony runs the risk of introducing diseases such as bird flu, avian malaria and avian botulism to islands that have been protected until now.

Northern rockhopper penguin numbers have declined by more than 90% in the wild since the 1950's. Although they can never return to the wild, captive rockhoppers, like those at the Aquarium, have the opportunity to create awareness for the plight of their endangered species. Please consider making a donation to a penguin conservation organisation like SANCCOB, the APSS or SANParks Table Mountain National Park this #PenguinWeek to share your love of these cute, but vulnerable, treasures of nature.

Photo by Katie Zenz/Two Oceans Aquarium.
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