New England Aquarium joins push to protect endangered African penguins

Local News

The aquarium is home to 39 African penguins, a species that faces extinction by the year 2035.

African penguin chick Bray, who hatched at the New England Aquarium this year. VANESSA KAHN/NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM

The New England Aquarium has joined an international partnership to protect endangered African penguins as the population rapidly declines in its native land.

The aquarium announced its new partnership with Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) this week, just ahead of African Penguin Awareness Day on Saturday. The organization’s mission is to protect species that are at risk of eradication.

According to wildlife experts, African Penguins are considered endangered due to a rapid population decline that is a result of overfishing, habitat degradation, and oil spills. 

The aquarium is home to a colony of 39 African penguins, with more than half of the population living beyond the average lifespan in their natural environment. The colony welcomed a new addition this year — a male chick named Bray. 

Although the aquarium’s African penguin population is thriving, experts believe the wild species could be functionally extinct in southwestern South Africa within the next 12 years.

“The top priority for our colony of African penguins is the highest level of animal care, welfare, enrichment, and training on a daily basis, in addition to a thoughtful breeding program. With the current wild populations of African penguins rapidly declining, we are committed to conservation efforts for these incredible birds and feel honored to join the SAFE program,” said Kristen McMahon, the Aquarium’s Curator of Pinnipeds and Penguins.

According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which founded SAFE in 2015, the program improves disaster response protocols for oil spills and builds artificial nests for the birds. More than 30 other facilities have joined forces with the push to protect the African penguins. 

As part of SAFE’s program, the aquarium will promote educational opportunities for guests visiting its penguin habitat and will continue breeding plans to promote the sustainable population management of the species. It will also participate in field conservation work with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in Cape Town and Gqeberha, South Africa. According to aquarium officials, SANCCOB provides rehabilitation and veterinary services to African penguins and other seabirds with a focus on conservation education and research projects.

“Over the last 20 years, New England Aquarium has played a significant role in the African penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP). Thanks to their expertise and cooperation, they have contributed greatly to the extremely successful genetic management of this species in AZA zoos and aquariums,” said SAFE African Penguin Secretary Gayle Sirpenski, Animal Management Specialist at Mystic Aquarium. “Their dedication to African penguin conservation is taking an exciting new direction by becoming a SAFE African Penguin Program Partner, and I’m truly thrilled to have the Aquarium as a new SAFE partner.”