The Sea Life London Aquarium has announced that a penguin chick raised by two female birds will not be assigned a gender-based name.
Same-sex couple Rocky and Marama have raised the chick, now four months old, after its birth mother was overwhelmed by multiple eggs. The two adoptive parents have been together for about five years. Marama, the older of the two, has been more protective of the chick, while Rocky has been eagerly adventuring, showing it around the aquarium.
The Sea Life family is unique in that it's the first time staff have declined to assign a gender to a chick. In a statement, the aquarium calls the newborn the first in its history "not to be characterized as male or female."
As juveniles, male and female penguins are treated identically by Sea Life, and so this one will not be assigned a gendered name or color-coded tag before displaying relevant behaviors. This is also true of the wild, where penguins do not adopt gendered names or dress in gendered colors. Those are conventions used only by humans.
"It is completely natural for penguins to develop genderless identities as they grow into mature adults," General Manager Graham McGrath adds in the press release.
While nearby ZSL London Zoo has several same-sex couples -- including Ronnie and Reggie, Nadja and Zimmer, and Dev and Martin -- SeaLife claims this was the first time that two penguins of the same gender successfully adopted a chick in its aquarium. "It made sense to continue to allow it to be identified more naturally by staff and guests at the aquarium in the future," it says.
It's common for penguins to develop same-sex bonds and even to raise children together. At the Bremerhaven Zoo in Germany, two fathers known as Z and Vielpunkt raised a chick after its egg was rejected by a heterosexual couple.
In 2011, Buddy and Pedro made headlines when the Toronto Zoo separated the couple, hoping they would stop exhibiting mating behavior with each other and instead breed with female penguins. The two eventually did form new bonds with female partners.
Earlier this month, two male penguins in Berlin hatched an egg, but sadly it was not fertilized and there was no chick for them to raise.
The gender-neutral chick in London will presumably mature along one of two physiological paths and may eventually engage in breeding. But until then, it will be allowed to grow up as it naturally would in the wild -- without any baggage of human gender imposed.