Nicky and Alex are lovebirds‚ a devoted same sex couple in the rockhopper penguin colony.
The two males share lavender between their nests and follow each other on the beach and into the water.
Alex is the surfer dude‚ like the lead role in the animated movie Surf’s Up‚ which stars rockhopper penguins with their floppy yellow crests and hippy look.
Ms Harold Custard is the new kid on the rock‚ who still prefers people to penguins.
She moved into the colony only last month as a four-month-old chick and has no crest yet. She was raised by SA Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCOB) because her parents Roxy and Gromett did not have a great track record.
The Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town has two penguin colonies – the rockhoppers‚ found on islands near Antarctica and African penguins. The population of the latter has dropped in the world from about two million to 40 000 over the past century.
All the adults are rescued or relocated penguins who cannot be released back into the wild and lack the experience of wild birds in bringing up chicks.
Grommet is the alpha male who can get possessive of Roxy‚ pecking other penguins who come too close.
Clax is the other youngster born to the couple in October 2014 who needed supplementary feeding to thrive.
Now she is starting to mature (three years is reaching maturity) and Hopper‚ a single male‚ is hanging around her more.
A petite female penguin called Wallace‚ who didn’t neatly pair up with Grommet like the TV show‚ has an old one-eyed mate called Teddy. He’s really like a grumpy old man who has been there a long time.
That leaves Bubbles‚ a shy bird who tends to hide away and presently has bandages on his flippers.
It’s not exactly the March of the Penguins. When the Two Oceans rockhopper penguins walk off their beach at about 7am every day‚ they are not taking an epic journey like their grand emperor cousins to distant breeding grounds.
Instead they are shuffling down a wooden ramp‚ along blue corridors towards the Kelp Forest exhibit where they will swim for about seven hours in a tank about six metres deep.
At present a few of them stay behind to finish their annual moulting‚ looking as raggedy as a worn coat with patches of grey feathers. When it is over they will be sleek with white chests.
Meanwhile the band of penguins waddle down the passage past recycling bins and scuba tanks. They get distracted along the way but animal keeper‚ Shanet Rutger‚ patiently steers them back on course.
After a few turns along the passage‚ they hop up 16 stairs. Neat two-footed jumps‚ the original parkour artists. These penguins live up to their names.
Once at the top of the tank‚ they get lifted up from the ground and down onto a floating platform from which they dive off into the tank with swell mimicking the ocean.
Watching from below you see them move like torpedoes around numerous fish. They pay no attention to their antics‚ except when the penguins nip at their tail fins. Besides‚ the fish are big and the penguins are well fed.
By 2pm they are ready to go home and hop onto the platform‚ to get lifted out and walk back.
First‚ they get sprayed down with a shower to make sure they take no microscopic life back to the colony.
Then they waddle back‚ faster than in the morning. When they return to the beach there is loud braying – that is how they got their original name of Jackass penguins – before life calms down.
They get fed‚ fortified whole fish‚ and the action for the day is over.
Like the Penguins of Madagascar‚ they are the real “cute and cuddly” stars of the aquarium.
– TMG Digital/TimesLIVE