You meet the love of your life, make a home together (perfect for raising children), and happily start a family; it’s many people’s dream. And penguins’ too, as male couple Sphen and Magic, inhabitants of a Sydney aquarium, are demonstrating to the rest of the world; sometimes dreams do come true.
Sphen and Magic, two gentoo penguins, and their burgeoning romance captured the interest, and then the hearts, of staff at Sea Life Sydney, who call them “Sydney's hottest couple” (they even have a ‘ship name –“Sphengic”), who are now sharing their story with the world.
It began as the 2018 breeding season kicked off and staff noticed the two penguins’ increased interactions, waddling and taking swims together, as well as little piles of ice pebbles appearing, signs of the beginnings of nest making.
"We'd go over there, and Magic and Sphen would be bowing to each other," Tish Hannan, the aquarium's penguin department supervisor, told ABC News. "Bowing is a gentoo way of saying they love each other, which is super cute."
Sphen even gave Magic a special pebble, which in gentoo romances is a love token the staff joke is equivalent to a proposal.
When the staff began putting out real pebbles for the nest-making birds to start building their little fortresses, Sphen and Magic started collecting them, just like the other penguins. In fact, they collected more pebbles than any other couple, making their nest the biggest in the enclosure.
The moment Sphen “proposes” to Magic by giving him a pebble love token. Sea Life Sydney Aquarium
The aquarium didn’t want Sphengic to feel excluded when the other penguins started producing eggs, so they gave them a dummy one to look after to practice their incubating skills, and what do you know, they were “absolute naturals”. To the staff's delight, they were so good, displaying great care towards their egg, that the team decided to entrust them with a real egg to foster from another couple who had two.
In the wild, gentoos usually only have the resources to raise one chick, and the second usually dies. According to the staff, the original parents didn’t even notice their second egg had gone.
“Whilst Sphen is older and is excellent at incubating, Magic is younger and still mastering his skill,” the aquarium explain on their website. “The pair make a great team, and there are often days where the egg cannot be seen (which is really good for penguin breeding!).”
Gentoo penguin parents split the responsibilities of raising a chick 50/50, whether it is feeding or incubating, so, Hannan explained, it should make no difference if penguin parents are male and female or the same sex.
"We're not going to need to step in just because they're males," she said.
"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."
There have been plenty of same-sex penguin pairings in zoos and aquariums around the world, it’s obviously not unusual for them, but this is the first time, in Australia at least, a gay couple has been given an egg to foster. We're sure you're all with us in wishing Sphen and Magic all the best in this exciting new chapter of their lives.