Aquarium staff say the two male penguins are showing signs of a strong bond after being handed a foster egg. (Supplied)
A same-sex penguin couple at a Sydney aquarium has become the first in Australia to be handed a foster egg and staff say the two are showing signs they’ll be “amazing parents”.
Magic and Sphen, two gentoo penguins at the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, formed a bond before the 2018 breeding season.
Tish Hannan, the aquarium’s penguin department supervisor, said staff suspected love was in the air when they began noticing piles of ice pebbles set up as a nest each day.
“We’d go over there and Magic and Spehn would be bowing to each other,” she said.
“Bowing is a gentoo way of saying they love each other, which is super cute.”
The couple then began collecting actual pebbles when staff put them out for the breeding season and built a real nest.
They were then given a dummy egg to practice their parenting skills.
“They immediately knew exactly what it was and started incubating it and we’re really, really happy,” Ms Hannan said.
Keepers then decided to give them a real egg from another couple that had two.
Ms Hannan said in the wild, gentoos usually only have enough resources to successfully raise one of their two eggs and the “back-up” chick often dies.
For that reason, the initial parents “didn’t even notice” an egg was missing, she said.
Shared responsibility for offspring
Ms Hannan said because gentoo penguins split parenting responsibilities equally between feeding and incubation, there is practically no difference between a male/female and same-sex pairing.
“We’re not going to need to step in just because they’re males,” she said.
“We might step in if it turns out that they’re not good parents because of who they are as individuals, but for all the signs we’re seeing at the moment they’re going to be amazing.”
Relationships between penguins of the same sex can be common and piqued the public interest in the early 2000s when two male chinstrap penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo raised a chick.
Penguins Sphen and Magic are the first same-sex couple at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium to be given a foster egg. (Supplied)
A same-sex penguin couple at a Kent zoo in the UK also reared a chick that was abandoned by its own parents.
However, not all penguin flings have a fairytale ending.
New York’s penguin couple, Silo and Roy, split in 2005 after one of them took another partner.
There have previously been same-sex pairings amongst penguins in Melbourne, but this is the first time a couple has been given a foster egg.
Ms Hannan was hopeful Magic and Sphen will stay together.
“Gentoos are monogamous,” she said.
“So if they have a successful breeding season and raise a chick, next year they’re very likely to get back together again because they know that worked for them.”