In September, 2023, an emperor penguin chick was hatched for the first time since 2010 at SeaWorld San Diego. SeaWorld San Diego is the only place in the Western Hemisphere where emperor penguins can be found, making the hatching a rare and celebratory event. Emperor penguins are currently listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act due to the loss of Antarctic Sea ice and rising sea levels caused by climate change.
“Bringing this chick into the world and ensuring her well-being and survival around the clock has been a very rewarding process for me and the entire SeaWorld Aviculture team,” said Justin Brackett, Curator of Birds at SeaWorld San Diego. “Every decision regarding her well-being was made with the upmost care and consideration by our expert team and veterinary staff. We are looking forward to learning more about her and watching her unique personality develop as she continues to grow.”
A recent scientific study found a record low for Antarctic Sea ice coverage that is adversely impacting emperor penguin populations. Four of the five emperor penguin colonies studied experienced total breeding failure due to the lack of sea ice. Emperor penguins are dependent on sea ice as their habitat for breeding, raising chicks, and molting. Newly hatched chicks lack waterproof feathers required to swim or survive in the ocean.
Katie Propp, Chief Operations Officer at Penguins International said, “Disappearing sea ice is becoming more frequent as our planet continues to warm and is having a devastating effect on penguin populations. The good news is that there is a future for this species if we take action to fight climate change and support organisations like SeaWorld that provide human care and maintain genetic biodiversity for emperor penguins in their facilities. Seeing these majestic animals up close and educating the public about the threats they face in the wild is paramount to encourage the public to do something to save their wild counterparts.”
SeaWorld San Diego is the only place in the Western Hemisphere outside of Antarctica where people can see emperor penguins. Penguin Encounter is home to a colony of 17 emperor penguins, as well as 300 other penguins including King, Gentoo, Macaroni, Chinstrap and Adélie penguins. The exhibit is a 25-degree, snow-filled habitat where the resident penguins can swim and interact within the colony. A colony of warm-weather Magellanic penguins, native to South America, live in a habitat outside the Encounter. Penguin Encounter is also home to nearly 90 puffins and murres.