Don't Think Love Is Real? Penguins Celebrating Valentine's Day Will Change Your Mind

Valentine’s Day draws a lot of animosity from those who believe it puts unnecessary pressure on relationships, costs too much money and is just plain frivolous.

But it also celebrates partnership, which is why biologist Vikki McCloskey helps the penguins at the California Academy of Science Museum's Steinhart Aquarium celebrate the often scorned holiday. 

penguin hearts Baby penguins celebrate Valentine's Day at the California Academy of Sciences. California Academy of Sciences

Biologists at the museum have been giving African penguins heart-shaped Valentines since 2008 (according to McCloskey's memory) because it helps promote the strong pair bonds exhibited by the animals—plus, the staff loves it.

“Anything we can do to enrich the animals’ lives is super fun for us because we all love our animals first and foremost,” McCloskey, who is also a curator at the aquarium, told Newsweek.

It’s often said that penguins mate for life, but McCloskey clarifies their type of monogamy is more similar to the way people are monogamous: they’ll stay together if they’re successful. If something happens to a penguin partner, the newly single penguin will just go looking for another mate.

Related: Penguins Are Champion Poopers and Their Nutrient-Packed Waste Supports Entire Ocean Ecosystems

Part of the animals' success as a couple lies in raising chicks. Starting a family requires a home, which the penguins take great care in building. To do this, they nest by gathering materials to make the area cozy (by penguin standards). In their natural environments, fecal matter, rocks and sticks are used. At the aquarium, a synthetic material is given to the birds for their homes. This is also what the Valentines are made of.  

Couples who were expecting offspring grabbed a lot of the Valentines to take back to their homes, according to McCloskey. “They want to make their nest nice for the kids,” she said. “It’s like a bonding, like a couple moving into their house and decorating.”

Female African penguins typically lay two eggs that are incubated for roughly 40 days. Both parents then take turns nurturing their brood.

For those who are not convinced love is real, the California Academy of Science offers a live cam if you’d like to catch a glimpse of the happy birds. Be warned, there’s not always activity taking place. A video from the museum’s YouTube account shows the penguins celebrating February 14 in 2015.

Even the most ardent Valentine’s Day haters will likely find joy in the spectacle after a viewing. 

Join the Discussion