A photographer in Australia captured a beautiful moment between two fairy penguins — also known as little penguins — who had both apparently been widowed, standing with their flippers around one another.
The photograph, which German photographer Tobias Baumgaertner posted on Instagram in March 2020, won Oceanographic Magazine's Ocean Photography Awards Community Choice Award, and has also won the hearts of many around the world.
Both penguins widowed
According to his Instagram post on Mar. 26, 2020, Baumgaertner wrote that he had spent three nights with the penguin colony in Melbourne prior to capturing the "beautiful moment".
BBC reported that the location, St. Kilda Pier, has a colony of about 1,400 fairy penguins, and is monitored by volunteers.
Baumgaertner said that as he had been watching the two penguins standing together on a rock overlooking the city skyline, a volunteer approached him and told him that the white one on the right was an elderly female penguin who had lost her partner.
The volunteer said that similarly, the younger male on the left had also lost his partner, and that since then, the two widowed penguins would meet regularly, "comforting each other and standing together for hours watching the dancing lights of the nearby city”.
Scientific community advised him against anthropomorphising animals
In another Instagram post on Apr. 25, 2020 — World Penguin Day — Baumgaertner shared a video of the adorable pair, along with a short reflection and update on the original photograph.
Baumgaertner wrote that he had originally shared the photos of the penguins in order to "spread love" because he believed that was "what the world needed most right now".
He said that it was never meant to be scientifically accurate, and that he romanticised the description by adding his "personal feelings of being separated from and longing for the one I can’t live without”.
However, he added that he had been advised by the scientific community that anthropomorphising — or attributing human characteristics or behaviours to — animals could have a negative influence on them.
This is because doing so can apparently lead to inappropriate behaviours toward wild animals, Baumgaertner said he was told, especially for animals living in such close proximity to the city.
He was also told that the two penguins could possibly be related, although their exact relation wasn't known to him.
"Either way," he wrote, "I believe that this was a truly beautiful and magical moment that spread so much love around the world."
Penguins may have re-paired with one another after being widowed
Snopes fact-checked the story and found that it contained some aspects of truth and some unknowns.
Vikki McCloskey, a biologist and curator of the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences, told Snopes that the video showed the penguins preening and vocalising, which are both behaviours which are typical of a bonded pair of penguins.
She said that it was possible that, if the two penguins had indeed both lost their partners, they may have re-paired with each other.
McCloskey also addressed the popular conception that penguins mate for life and would never re-pair with other penguins.
"Just like human partners, if everything is going well — holding territory, producing fertile eggs, raising offspring successfully — the pair will stay together.
Sometimes they ‘break up’, sometimes they ‘cheat’, sometimes one dies — none of this means they won’t find a different partner."
Totally unrelated but follow and listen to our podcast here
Top photo via Instagram / tobiasvisuals.