28 June 2024

Class was in session at the nursery penguin pool this week, as our 11 young Humboldt penguin chicks took to the water for their first swimming lesson!

The chicks, named McVitie, Swiftie, Gonzo, Pepe, Beaker, Coco, Bob, Thérèse, Randall, Hanbury and Medici, hatched at our much-loved Penguin Beach in April, and were ready to take their first dip in the shallow training pool.

Penguin chick takes its first dip

Zookeeper Jessica Ray explained: “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.

Penguin chick inspects the nursery pool

“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!”

Jessica 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.”  

Penguin chick has its first swim

Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) are native to coastal Peru and Chile and are excellent natural swimmers. Their paddle-like wings act as flippers, propelling them through the water like Olympic swimmers at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.  

Jessica said, “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 strong enough, the 11 chicks will move into our main penguin pool, where they’ll join their colony of Humboldt penguins. The 500,000 litre pool, the largest in England, will see the young penguins reach their full swimming potential.  

The chicks have been treated to weeks of VIP treatment from the Penguin team to get them to this point, involving a bespoke diet of delectable fish milkshakes made from blended sprats, saline and vitamins. This diligent hand-rearing from keepers helps the team to ensure the young penguins are in optimal health and ready for swimming lessons.

Humboldt penguins are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with their numbers in the wild falling. Disturbance caused by the harvesting of their droppings - which makes an effective fertiliser - as well as pollution caused by oil spills and overfishing are all contributors to their decline.    

Visitors can see the penguin chicks learn to swim this summer, before discovering the fun of Poo at the Zoo: a family-friendly journey into the fascinating world of wildlife waste, which promises to be huge heaps of fun!