Love in a cold climate: Sphen & Magic, Gay Gentoo Penguins


Sydney gay gentoo penguins Sphen and Magic have been together for five years at Sea Life Sydney aquarium sphengic
Image: Sea Life Sydney

The story of Sphen and Magic, two gay Gentoo Penguins, is one of the great romances of modern times. The pair bonded in a Sydney aquarium and so far hatched two chicks together, Sphengic and Clancy.

In 2018, staff at Sydney’s SEA LIFE Aquarium noticed the bond between a pair of male Gentoo Penguins. Sphen and Magic spent their days waddling around the penguin exhibition and going for swims together.

Then, as breeding season approached, the pair started collecting ice pebbles to create a nest in their favourite spot.

Penguin department supervisor Tish Hannan said staff even observed the couple saying they loved each other.

“We’d go over there and Magic and Sphen would be bowing to each other.

“Bowing is a Gentoo way of saying they love each other, which is super cute.”

Check out videos of the early courtship.

Because of the gay Gentoo Penguins’ obvious wish to parent, staff gave them a dummy egg to practice incubating.

“They were absolute naturals and displayed great care for their egg, so much so, the team at SEA LIFE Sydney fostered a real egg to them from another couple who had two.”

In October 2018, Sphen and Magic hatched their egg and became proud dads of a young Gentoo chick.

A DNA test the following January revealed the chick was female.

Sphengic

Originally named Lara by staff, she later became better known by the nickname given to her by the general public — Sphengic, after her dads. She was the first sub-Antarctic penguin to be born at the aquarium since the colony arrived in 2016.

Around the time of Sphengic’s first birthday, zoo staff gave Sphen and Magic another foster egg. Tish Hannan said the lads had already built a nest out of ice pebbles.

She said the pair had “the biggest, most beautiful and possibly neatest nest in the entire exhibit.

“They’re fantastic parents – both very loyal and protective. Baby Sphengic, who turned one on October 19, had an excellent start to life under their care.”

In April 2020, Sphen, Magic and Sphengic featured as a family on a live stream to celebrate World Penguin Day.

That November, SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium welcomed several new Gentoo Penguin chicks. Among them, a new baby for Sphen and Magic.

In January 2021, the aquarium held a competition to choose a name for the new offspring. Its gender was not yet known.

Penguin Supervisor Kerrie Dixon said gender was not an important construct when naming penguins. The birds carry their sex organs internally and so staff choose names based on personality.

Named Clancy, the new chick celebrated his dads’ third anniversary with the rest of the family. The still-devoted couple enjoyed a frozen fish cake with neighbours and friends.

Penguin keeper Kiera Ponting said the pair’s devotion to each other thrilled the aquarium staff.

“Magic still regularly collects the most perfect pebble that he can find for Sphen, displaying what a great hunter and partner he can be.

“They set a great example to the rest of the colony. They’re inseparable and proving just how strong penguin bonds can be.”

Sphen, Magic, Sphengic and Clancy do Mardi Gras

In 2021, the proud gay Gentoo Penguin dads and their offspring featured in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. They couldn’t be there in person – they require a colder temperature than the Mardi Gras parade allows. However, the NSW Teachers Federation commissioned large, inflatable likenesses of the famous Gentoo Penguin family as a message of love to all rainbow families.

Then… WorldPride

If you can’t bring Sphen and Magic to the parade, then bring the parade to them.

In 2023, the pair marked WorldPride with a Pride March across their very own Sydney Harbour Bridge. Staff recreated a rainbow-adorned Sydney skyline within the penguin exhibit for the duration of the WorldPride Festival.

Penguin Keeper Alie Selvaraj said, “The team at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium proudly supports and celebrates the right for everyone, including our penguins, to express themselves freely.

“Our gorgeous king and gentoo penguins are so full of individual personality and are fitting representatives of love taking many forms in the animal kingdom.

“They are the perfect ambassadors for our fun, Sydney WorldPride tribute!”

Later in 2023, the pair became teachers.

SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium partnered with the Teachers Federation to develop a new syllabus teaching students about diverse relationships.

A Penguin keeper from the aquarium said Sphen and Magic’s story will “help children better understand the syllabus as they can relate to animals.

“I think a lot of schools now are trying to be more inclusive in their teaching and educating children on more diverse relationships, and I feel animals are a really good way to do that because kids are very accepting of them.

“Penguins share equal parenting duties, except for the actual egg laying of course. So that means it doesn’t matter what combination of sexes you have with the parents.”

There’s always a spoilsport

Sadly, there’s always a party pooper.

In this case, as in so many others, the Family First Party.

Family First accused the gay penguins of being straight and faking their sexuality.

Goodness me – they’re penguins, not James Franco.

No, Family First — Sphen and Magic are gay Gentoo Penguins and theirs is a great romance. Love is Love.🏳️‍🌈❤️🧡💛💚💙💜🏳️‍🌈

Read More:

Gay animals: homosexuality exists in many species, homophobia in only one!

PLUS: More Gay and Lesbian Penguins:

New York Central Park Zoo’s Silo and Roy.

Hamburg Zoo’s Stan and Olli.

Sea Life Melbourne’s Klaus and Jones.

Rosamund Gifford Zoo’s Elmer and Lima.

Sea Life London: Marmalade and Chickpea + Marama and Rocky.

Oceanogràfic Aquarium’s Electra and Viola.

And the baddies:

Gay penguins busted stealing lesbian neighbours’ entire love nest.

For the latest LGBTIQA+ Sister Girl and Brother Boy news, entertainment, community stories in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.

 

Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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