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Senior Animal Care Specialist Holly Gibson, left, and Senior Aviculturist Loribeth Lee, right, hold two Gentoo Penguin chicks that hatched in the Penguins' Rock gallery at the Tennessee Aquarium in early June 2020. / Photo by Casey Phillips / Tennessee Aquarium

Two new penguin chicks have been born at the Tennessee Aquarium, according to a news release.

The chicks, a pair of Gentoo penguins, fully emerged from their shells while making hisses, peeps, trumpets and other vocalizations on June 7 and 8 after the eggs were laid in late April.

One of the chicks is the offspring of Roxie and Beaker, parents that hatched and were raised at the Aquarium themselves.

"This is the first time our chicks here have had chicks," Senior Aviculturist Loribeth Lee said in the release.

And the second chick is the offspring of Pebbles and Nipper, who happens to be the father of Beaker (the first chick's dad).

"Nipper is just like Steve Martin's character in Father of the Bride Part 2," Lee said. "He has a kid and a grandkid on the same day, and the grandkid comes first!"

The babies' genders are still a mystery and won't be known until the return of results from an annual blood test as part of a yearly colony-wide checkup this fall.

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Penguin chicks at the Tennessee Aquarium

They are about halfway to fledging, when they will leave the nest, and are already more than half as tall as their parents. They have also grown from about 150 grams each to about three kilograms in just a month, which is considered to be well above average based on weekly weigh-ins and checkups by veterinary and animal care specialists, the release states.

"This year, in particular, the chicks have reflected excellent parenting from their moms and dads and have gained extremely well," Lee said. "It's pretty impressive. This particular crop has done as well as any we've had so far."

Adult plumage will start to develop on the chicks in the next few weeks and they are expected to be ready for their first "swim test" by mid-August. By then, they'll be as tall and possibly as heavy at their parents.

The Aquarium has now successfully hatched 24 chicks since 2009 in a colony of 19 birds. Some of the hatchlings have been born at the Aquarium while others have been been sent to other facilities to help create a "healthy and genetically robust" population in human care, according to the release.

The arrival of the chicks is the culmination of months of increased workload and added responsibilities for the Aquarium's penguin team.

The process begins in March when staff members meticulously clean hundreds of pounds of carefully chosen nesting rocks. After the birds start creating their nests, the staff then construct and place various platforms and barriers to protect the nests from "curious neighbors." Within a few weeks of "Rock Day," the eggs are laid and the chick watch begins.

"It is the best but simultaneously most stressful time for us," Lee said in the release. "But the parents are doing such a great job that we don't have to worry about feeding, which helps out a lot. Seeing the chicks grow and the parents adjust to caring for them is a testament that we as keepers are doing something right."

None of the Macaroni penguins at the Aquarium laid eggs this year, but this is the first time since 2016 that a breeding season has produced two Gentoo penguin chicks there. 

People can keep track of the growing chicks and watch them interact with their parents, other birds and animal care specialists by visiting https://tnaqua.org/live/penguins-rock/.

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