We are often asked if we control which penguins breed with each other. And yes, we are very selective of which penguins are breeding; this is to ensure that we maintain a genetically diverse and healthy population.
A penguin family in the breeding area behind the scenes
But it doesn't stop with just the penguins at the New England Aquarium. The New England Aquarium takes part in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the African penguins. The SSP involves AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited institutions that have African penguins and develops a breeding program that will produce the most genetically diverse population possible.
The genealogy of every African penguin born in the SSP is known, and each penguin is ranked based on how genetically valuable they are. This rank is based on how well represented their genes are in the population. Then every two years, members of the SSP get together and, using the rankings, decides which penguins would make the best pairings. Sometimes the two penguins are already at the same institution, but sometimes penguins need to be traded to other places.
Beach Donkey and Halifax
Last summer the SSP meeting was held at the New England Aquarium so all the penguin staff had the opportunity to sit in on part of the meeting. It was very interesting to see all the work that goes into making sure the African population is well managed and self-sufficient. To me, it sort of felt like being at the NFL draft with all the trading that was going on!
In the end the New England Aquarium has 10 SSP approved breeding pairs, stay tuned to future blogs to see how our African penguin breeding season turns out.
Breeding pair in holding