Same-sex penguin couple fosters an egg at a Sydney aquarium

A pair of same-sex penguins in Sydney has developed a “super cute” relationship and  been given a foster egg to raise after aquarium staff observed the couple building a nest and concluded they would make “amazing parents”.

The  two males, named Magic and Sphen, formed a bond before this year’s breeding season at the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium. The pair of gentoo penguins were often seen bowing at each other and Sphen reportedly gave Magic a stone – tantamount to proposing – before the couple started to prepare a nest.

Tish Hannan, the aquarium’s penguin department supervisor, said staff first suspected a romance had formed when they realised that piles of ice pebbles were being set up as a nest each day.

"We’d go over there and Magic and Spehn would be bowing to each other," she told ABC News.

"Bowing is a gentoo way of saying they love each other, which is super cute."

When staff released actual pebbles for the breeding season, the pair soon began preparing a real nest. They were given a fake egg to practice their parenting skills and were then given a real one from a couple that had two.

Ms Hannan said penguins in the wild can often only successfully raise one chick and the initial parents “didn’t even notice” that an egg was missing. 

“They [Magic and Sphen] immediately knew exactly what it was and started incubating it and we’re really, really happy," she told ABC News.

"We’re not going to need to step in just because they’re males. 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."

Magic and Spehn are the first penguin couple in Australia to be given a foster egg to raise, but same-sex relationships between penguins are common. In 1998, Silo and Ray, two male chinstrap penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo, famously formed a relationship and later raised a chick, but split after one of them took a female partner. 

A same-sex pair at the Wingham Wildlife Park in Kent also raised a penguin that had been abandoned by its initial parents. "These two have so far proven to be two of the best penguin parents we have had yet," said Tony Binskin, the park owner, in 2014.