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Wellington the penguin
Photograph: Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Chicago’s most famous penguin is having a virtual birthday party

And you're invited!

Emma Krupp
Written by
Emma Krupp

If you're like us and have become superfans of the Shedd Aquarium's adorable penguins over the past few months, you're in luck: Wellington—arguably the institution's most famous bird—is having a virtual birthday party on Friday, December 18.

What does a penguin birthday party consist of, you ask, and why are we celebrating? Well, on December 20, Wellington will turn 33 years old. If 33 sounds old for a penguin, that's because it is—like, really old. For context, Wellington was hatched in 1987, just a few weeks after the death of former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. He reached reproductive maturity in the early '90s, right around the time the Orange Line started service for the first time. By the time his penguin grandson (a zoologist would probably use the term "offspring") was hatched in 2015, Wellington had already lived through five presidencies, and he'll soon see his seventh.

That might not be an especially noteworthy accomplishment for a human, but for penguins, it's pretty special. According to a press release from the Shedd, the average rockhopper penguin lives anywhere from 10 to 15 years in the wild; under human care, that number can ordinarily be extended to around 20 to 25 years. Wellington, having blown past all expectations of a reasonable penguin lifespan, is considered geriatric (although spry, as you can probably note from his waddling escapades through various Chicago landmarks, even as he experiences some old-age side effects like cataracts). His longevity and good health can be attributed to highly attentive care from the Shedd's animal care team, who are studying Wellington's extra-long life to learn how to better care for other geriatric animals at the aquarium.

"We’re honored to keep sharing his story and dive deeper by highlighting some of the unique attributes about this 33-year-old penguin in hopes to inspire people to learn more and take action to protect penguins," Lana Gonzalez, manager of penguins and sea otters at Shedd Aquarium, said in the release. 

To celebrate Wellington's hatchiversary this year, Gonzalez and other animal care team members will host a Facebook Live party on Friday, December 18 at 8:30am to share more about Wellington's life ahead of his birthday (whether he'll be treated to a big fish cake like his otter compatriot is TBD). Can't make the party? Pour one out for the old bird anyway, and consider booking a virtual penguin encounter to e-meet Wellington and all his other penguin friends and family up close.

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