Gentoo penguins Sphen and Magic, collectively known as Sphengic, are the Sydney Aquarium's coolest couple

By Maura Hohman
October 16, 2018 09:03 AM
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Gentoo penguins Sphen and Magic, collectively known as Sphengic, are the Sydney Aquarium’s coolest couple.

The two birds, both of whom are male, have been attracting visitors since they started to develop a strong bond just before breeding season, according to the venue’s website. They often waddle around and go for swims side by side, and to assert their relationship status, Sphen and Magic started building a pebble nest together. They quickly gathered more pebbles than any other couple in the exhibit.

At first, so Sphengic wouldn’t feel left out, aquarium staff gave the pair a fake egg to incubate, but the two were so diligent at caring for it — taking turns sitting on it and keeping other penguins from stealing their pebbles — that they received a real egg to foster from another bird who’d laid two.

Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

“They immediately knew exactly what it was and started incubating it, and we’re really, really happy,” Tish Hannan, the aquarium’s penguin department supervisor, told Australia’s ABC broadcaster. “We’re not going to need to step in just because they’re males … 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.”

RELATED: See Sphen and Magic Together

The romance is likely to continue, according to Hannan. “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,” she said.

There have been several famous same-sex male penguin couples over the years, NPR reports. Silo and Roy, chinstrap penguins, were together for six years at the Central Park Zoo in New York City, and Harry and Pepper, Magellanics, lived together for the same amount of time in San Francisco.

More recently, a same-sex penguin couple “kidnapped” a chick from another pair of birds within their home at Denmark’s Odense zoo at the end of September.

Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

The parenting scuffle went down while the baby penguin in question’s parents went for a swim in the creatures’ exhibit, Odense zookeeper Sandie Hedgegård Munck told Danish broadcaster DR.

According to Hedgegård Munck, the penguin pair decided the chick’s parents weren’t fit to look after the baby — and waited for the perfect moment to take action.

“The parents disappeared, and the kid was simply kidnapped,” the zookeeper told the outlet. “I think the female had been out to get her bath, and then it had been the male’s turn to care for the kid. He may have then left, and then the [gay] couple had thought, ‘It’s pity, we’ll take it.’ ”

One day later, the chick’s biological parents wanted their baby back. In a video posted on the Odense Zoo’s Facebook page, the parents can be seen confronting the baby’s new adoptive family, who protectively nuzzled the chick in between their legs. After their encounter turned physical, the chick was given back to his biological parents.