We are excited to announce the hatching of a northern rockhopper penguin chick on the rockhopper beach in the Two Oceans Aquarium’s Penguin Exhibit. The chick was welcomed into the world on 2 October 2021 and is growing fast and furiously. This is the fourth chick hatched by parent birds Roxy and Grommet.
Roxy and Grommet have had three other offspring – Clax (2014, female), Harold Custard (2016, female) and Chippy Goodwill (2018, male). Together, they are affectionately known as the “Beakham Family” of the resident rockhopper colony. The latest chick, named Codi, is the first one that Roxy and Grommet incubated and raised without any human assistance. Considering that both parent birds are fairly old in rockhopper terms (20+ years), this is certainly a feat to celebrate!
The new chick hatched at a weight of 62g and is currently weighing in at more than a kilogram. Being inquisitive and adventurous, and having a big personality, it has begun to explore the areas around the nest and has integrated with the other penguins on the beach. Currently the sex of the chick is not known as males and females are virtually indistinguishable, but DNA testing will be done at a later stage to confirm its sex.
“I was lucky enough to witness the chick hatching which was such a special experience for me. It is a joy to see how well Roxy and Grommet are taking care of the chick and how it is growing,” enthuses Rebecca Miller, a penguin volunteer at the Two Oceans Aquarium.
Northern rockhopper penguins have been classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Their numbers have declined dramatically over the last three decades with food source scarcity, human activity and climate change being the main driving factors attributed to this decline.
The rockhopper penguins at the Two Oceans Aquarium are some of the few animals in the Aquarium that are not from South African waters. These small, crested birds are naturally found in the south Atlantic and Indian Oceans, with their breeding range restricted to only seven islands within this area. The majority of northern rockhopper penguins can be found on Gough Island and the Tristan da Cunha group of islands, which are located thousands of kilometres south of South Africa.
How do these birds end up in South Africa?
The rockhopper penguins at the Aquarium were found stranded on southern Cape beaches and were rehabilitated by the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) before finding a permanent home at the Aquarium. It is believed that the penguins were originally caught by fishermen on large fishing vessels and kept on board as pets, to be used as food, or to sell at a later stage. It is illegal to have these birds onboard once in South African waters. Worried about incurring fines, the fishermen have to get rid of the birds and therefore toss them overboard, essentially “shipwrecking” them on our coast. The penguins cannot be released or returned to their islands because of the potential risk of introducing diseases into the wild populations.
Rockhopper penguins build nests of pebbles and twigs and usually lay two eggs with the first being much smaller, and in most cases not viable. The male and female take turns to incubate the eggs, but once they hatch, the male takes on the sole responsibility of protecting the chick. The female hunts for food and returns to feed the chick, but not the male. At around 10 weeks, the chicks are ready to head out to sea on their own.
Grommet was found near Hermanus in 2000, while Roxy came to the Aquarium in 2003. In the wild, rockhopper penguins have a life expectancy of about 10 years, which makes these two birds considerably advanced in age. Mating for life, these birds have a very strong bond, virtually never leaving each other’s sides. Initially (2014), they struggled to raise their chicks without gentle assistance from their human caretakers, but with the latest addition, they have proven to be attentive and caring parents.
“Watching this little fuzzy bundle grow bigger and bigger every day, until it couldn't fit under Roxy anymore, has been such a highlight for me,” said Catherine Currin, one of the penguin volunteers at the Aquarium.
Like all of the other penguins and animals at the Two Oceans Aquarium, this newest member has been, and will continue to be looked after by a dedicated and passionate team. Visitors will be able to see the chick either on the rockhopper beach area in the Penguin Exhibit, or as it grows older, swimming in the Kelp Forest Exhibit.