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Shedd welcomes penguin chick

Shedd Aquarium trainer Christy Sterling with new baby rockhopper penguin. Shedd Aquarium~BrennHernandez

Shedd Aquarium trainer Christy Sterling with the new baby rockhopper penguin. Shedd Aquarium~Brenna Hernandez

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Front and center at the Shedd Aquarium’s Polar Play Zone exhibit two new parents stood protectively against rock formations, backs to the public, shielding their 28-day-old rockhopper penguin chick from view.

“I didn’t even see him at first! I thought it was a rock!” Shedd visitor Kyle Smitherman, 22, of Wichita, Kan., said Tuesday.

Because there are no external indicators of the chick’s sex, it’s not clear whether the baby chick is actually a “him” or a “her” yet, aquarium officials said. The chick — known as No. 22 for now — doesn’t yet have an official name.

Initially 75 grams — about the weight of 15 nickels – and small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, the chick now weighs about 2-1/4 pounds, aquarium officials said.

The chick’s parents, each 25 years old, are veterans to the caretaker role, each with two other children in the Shedd exhibit, said Ken Ramirez, executive vice president of animal care and training. This is their first time mating together.

“They’re both very good parents. It’s up to [them] where they want to build their nest so to me what makes this chick so unique is just the fact that it’s right out in the center of the exhibit where everyone can see it,” Ramirez said.

No. 22’s parents diligently ate up their lunch of capelin, herring and krill, then regurgitated it back into the chick’s mouth. Feeding time over, it awkwardly waddled down the artificial rocks. The chick attempted a jump but failed miserably, falling a short way. The parents reacted immediately, gently nipping at the chick’s fluffy gray down to guide it to back to the nest.

On the other side of the glass, mother Sarah Kraus Coulom, 33, of St. Louis pointed out the interactions to her 4-year-old son, Seth.

Seth said he liked the chick quite a lot “because he’s cute.”

Somewhere between the ripe old age of 75 and 90 days, No. 22 will strike out on its own and its parents will treat it just like any other penguin in the exhibit, Ramirez said.

Kids grow up so fast.

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