An Emperor penguin chick has hatched for the first time in over a decade at SeaWorld San Diego on Sept. 12, 2023, the company announced on Wednesday, October 25.
SeaWorld San Diego is the only place in the Western Hemisphere outside of Antarctica with Emperor penguins — and the hatching of a chick is “a rare and celebratory event,” said the company in a press release.
This chick is the first one to be hatched at SeaWorld San Diego since 2010.
“For the zoo specialists that work here, we’ve seen a lot of penguin babies over the years,” said Justin Brackett, curator of Birds at SeaWorld San Diego said in a video provided to Fox News Digital announcing the chick’s emergence.
“But an Emperor penguin chick is always one of the most exciting things that we get to do. They’re so rare outside of the Antarctic.”
The chick, a female, had a very rough start to her life.
She was eventually found to have a beak malformation, Brackett said.
The chick, who does not yet have a name, had to be incubated in her egg by SeaWorld’s Aviculture team as her parents opted not to incubate the egg, Brackett said in a video.
She also had quite the challenge during her hatching.
“Emperor penguin eggs have a very thick shell to help them survive in the cold, harsh, climates that they’re found in,” he said.
While this thick shell is protective, it also means the penguin chick has to use a lot of its energy to hatch.
After several days went by with a lack of progress, the chick essentially had to be hatched by hand by SeaWorld’s veterinary and zoo staff.
During the initial hatching assistance process, it was discovered that her malformed beak meant she never would have been able to hatch on her own, SeaWorld said.
“Assisting was the only way to safely hatch that chick,” said Brackett. “That means slowly chipping pieces of the shell away to help that chick break through.”
Speaking to Fox News Digital, Brackett said, “Our team made many careful decisions regarding the well-being of this chick from the moment it began to hatch.”
After nearly three days of help, the penguin chick was successfully hatched — but her problems did not end there, said Brackett in the video.
“Similar to a premature baby, there’s a lot of complications that can come with having to artificially hatch any penguin chick,” Brackett said.
In this case, the Emperor penguin chick did not properly absorb her yolk sac, something that normally happens during the hatching process.
The team “monitored the chick 24/7 for her first month of life,” Brackett told Fox News Digital, praising the work of his colleagues.
“Our aviculture and veterinary team’s expertise have been instrumental in ensuring that this chick is growing properly,” he said.
That expertise was on display when the penguin chick had issues with eating enough food.
“Feeding was a particular challenge,” said Brackett, due to the penguin’s retained yolk. After three weeks, the yolk was removed in a two-hour surgery, in order to prevent future infections and complications.
Surgery seemed to have done the trick: Afterward, she “began to eat normal amounts,” said Brackett, and has begun progressing at a normal rate.
Despite the challenges, the birth of the Emperor penguin chick has been extremely rewarding and exciting for those involved in her care at SeaWorld San Diego, the team said.
“This is a once-in-a-decade event for our team,” said Brackett. “We’re all tired, we’re all worn out, we’ve been here 24 hours a day for the last month, but this is the most exciting thing we’ll do all year — potentially all decade.”
Emperor penguins are currently listed as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act, SeaWorld San Diego said in a release.
This is due to shrinking levels of Antarctic sea ice.
Emperor penguins have their chicks on the sea ice, and the chicks do yet not have waterproof feathers that are needed for swimming.
Currently, SeaWorld San Diego is home to a colony of 17 Emperor penguins, plus an additional 300 penguins of other species in its “Penguin Encounter” exhibit, as well as puffins and murres.