Over the past couple of weeks, staff at the Inbursa Aquarium in Mexico City have had their eyes glued to a single animal. In a way, it’s reminiscent of parents checking in on their newborn baby; aquarium staff made sure the animal’s mother didn’t squish him, watched so that other animals didn’t harm him, and registered when his mother fed him. The precious cargo is a baby gentoo penguin named Alex, which the aquarium says is the first Antarctic penguin born in Mexico.
The Story Begins With Beto and Mary
As reported by Mexican outlet El Universal, the story begins with Beto and Mary, Alex’s parents. In September, which is when the penguin nesting season begins, the aquarium staff began placing river rocks in strategic places for the penguins to find. Male penguins pick up one of the rocks and offer them to the females. It’s like a gift for them, and if the female accepts, the pair become a couple, make a nest, and lay an egg, Víctor Sánchez, a director at the Inbursa Aquarium, told the outlet.
Alex Hatched From His Egg After 35 Days
Gentoo penguin eggs take between 34 and 37 days to hatch. Sánchez said that Alex was born on Dec. 2, 35 days after the egg was laid, and was a very strong baby. In early January, Alex measured 20 centimetres in length and almost 1.7 kilograms, according to the aquarium. Adult gentoo penguins grow to an average height of about 75 centimetres and weigh roughly five kilograms. They can live between 15 to 20 years in the wild.
Aquarium Staff Call Him the First Chilango Penguin
The aquarium called Alex the first chilango penguin, a term used to describe people who live in Mexico City.
“We’re celebrating and we welcome the first gentoo penguin (pygoscelis papua) baby born in Mexico,” the aquarium said in a statement early this month. “This extraordinary event contributes to maintaining our mission: the conservation of marine life.”
Having Penguins in an Aquarium Isn’t Exactly Easy
Per its website, the Inbursa Aquarium currently has two types of Antarctic penguins on exhibition: the gentoo and the chinstrap. Having penguins at the aquarium isn’t exactly an easy task. According to Sánchez, the aquarium had to recreate the conditions that the penguins are used to in Antarctica. This meant maintaining the right temperature in the air and the water, and using filtering systems to filter the water 45 times per day. Air, on the other hand, is filtered 15 times every hour and the filters block out any foreign object larger than three microns — a tiny fraction of the width of a human hair.
Additionally, the aquarium has also collaborated with experts from Spain, Argentina, Canada, and Dubai on its penguin exhibition.
Gentoo Penguins Are Currently Considered a Species of “Least Concern”
Gentoo penguins are protected by the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. Although they’ve faced some threats in recent decades — they were classified as “near threatened” for a number of years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature — the IUCN currently classifies them as “least concern,” which means that they have a stable overall population. The IUCN estimates that there are 774,000 mature gentoo penguins worldwide.
Nonetheless, They Still Face Threats
According to the IUCN, the main threats to the species include biological resource use, human intrusions and disturbance, invasive species, diseases, and pollution. The organisation notes fisheries may be a threat because the penguins can be incidentally captured in fishing nets in addition to competing for resources humans are after as well. There is also concern about increasing oil exploration around the Falkland Islands, which is also home to gentoo penguins, as well as pollution from oil spills.
Harmful algal blooms and diseases have also affected populations in the past. Meanwhile, human tourism has been caused decreased breeding productivity. Experts are also worried about penguins and other Antarctic animals are ingesting plastic particles from sources thousands of miles away, highlighting the need to study the levels of microplastics in the areas where the animals live. The same issue is also affecting ecosystems at the other pole in the Arctic.
For Now, Staff Are Focused on Making Sure Alex Doesn’t Fall in the Water
When it comes to Alex, his human caretakers are working hard to make sure he has everything he needs to thrive. Sánchez explained that his food, which includes fish like herring, is brought from Alaska. Inbursa staff are also keeping a close eye on Alex, who can’t swim yet.
“[He’s like] a beautiful stuffed animal,” Sánchez told El Universal. “He even feels like one because he hardly has any feathers, which doesn’t allow him to swim, and we’re paying attention so that he doesn’t fall in the water. Over the next few days, he’ll begin to have different plumage.”