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Saint Louis Zoo reveals baby penguin's name after online poll

The winning name was announced on Wednesday

ST. LOUIS — Last month, the Saint Louis Zoo asked for the public’s help in choosing a name for a female southern rockhopper penguin that hatched at the zoo in December.

On Wednesday, the zoo revealed the winning name: Opal. Out of 36,620 votes cast, Opal received 16,806 of them, or 45.89%. 

The runner-up was Pebbles with 9,301 votes, followed by Luna with 5,847 votes and Lumi with 4,666 votes.

Bird keepers at the zoo selected the four potential names for the baby penguin and explained the story behind each name.

  • Opal – Fire opal is a gemstone with a beautiful yellow and orange shimmer, similar to the color of an adult rockhopper’s orange beak and bright yellow eyebrows.
  • Pebbles – The egg was laid in a foundation of small river rocks and grasses. Once it hatched, the chick was so small that she looked like a pebble.
  • Luna – A rockhopper’s white belly and black back resemble a crescent moon. There was also a crescent moon the week of the chick's hatch.
  • Lumi – “Lumi” means snow in Finnish. The soft white down of the rockhopper chick's belly looked like freshly fallen snow.
Credit: Saint Louis Zoo

The hatch story

The penguin’s journey began when her mom, 18-year-old Star, laid an egg in a nest full of rocks and grass that was built by her dad, 18-year-old Rocky.

In the past, Star and Rocky had some difficulty successfully incubating eggs on their own so the bird care team moved the egg to an artificial incubator at the Bird House. Staff gave Star and Rocky a “dummy” egg so they could continue to practice incubating.

For 32 days, staff monitored the chick’s progress during incubation. To make sure the chick was in the correct position to hatch, staff took the chick’s first picture using x-rays.

When the chick first broke through its shell, it was time to place it under the parents, but Star and Rocky’s nest was located above open water and was too dangerous for a wiggling chick. So, the egg was placed in the nest of another pair of penguins who were nesting in a safer location. They became the chick’s foster parents.

The foster parents, Rockie and Buddha, had produced their own egg around the same time, but it was not fertile.

Over the next 48 hours the chick wiggled and peeped to alert the foster parents that it was making its way out of its shell. Once the chick was out of the shell, the parents fed the chick around the clock.

The chick’s biological parents remain nearby in the same habitat so the chick will grow up knowing them as part of the larger colony, the zoo said on its website.

Credit: Saint Louis Zoo
Opal with her foster parents

About southern rockhopper penguins

Southern rockhoppers are a vulnerable species of penguin and are native to the Indian and Pacific oceans. The “tiny but tough” penguins are also found along the southern coast of South America.

Southern rockhopper penguins have distinctive yellow plumes extending from a yellow stripe above the eye. They are about 18 inches tall and weigh 4 to 9 pounds.

Like many other penguins, southern rockhoppers form lasting bonds with their mate. They will return to the same nest site year after year.

In the wild they feed mostly on krill, but they also eat fish and squid. At the zoo, they eat fish including capelin, mackerel, herring and trout.

It is estimated that over the past 37 years, the number of southern rockhopper penguins have declined by 34%.

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