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Photo gallery: Birch Aquarium exhibit of little penguins comes into the blue

La Jolla’s Birch Aquarium has some new little residents, and the public can see them when the Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins exhibit opens Tuesday, July 12.

Little blue penguins — the smallest species of penguin — are on exhibit for the first time in Southern California. The aquarium’s 2,900-square-foot habitat features an 18,000-gallon penguin lagoon, multiple burrows, a sandy beach and native plants that mimic the coast of the penguins’ native New Zealand and Australia.

Earlier this year, Birch Aquarium sold the naming rights to several of its 15 little blue penguins for $50,000 each to help underwrite the new $2.8 million habitat. It’s the only one west of the Rockies to feature little blues, which are generally less than a foot tall and weigh about 3 pounds.

The public was asked to choose the name of one penguin from among five finalist names — each with ties to San Diego or UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, of which Birch is a part. The online campaign was launched on World Penguin Day, April 25, and ended in June.

The name Azulito, or “little blue” in Spanish, won by a landslide with 924 votes.

Now, Azulito — along with Magic, Nero, Persimmon, Reka, Cornelius, Katie and others — are in the exhibit, which aims to tell the penguins’ story from hatchlings to adults and highlight the challenges they face.

“The birds are happy, thriving and adapting nicely to their new surroundings,” said Kayla Strate, lead penguin aquarist. “Eventually, we’re hoping the penguins will form a successful breeding colony.”

Each penguin in the exhibit wears a colorful wing band that helps staff and guests distinguish one bird from another.

Birch Aquarium, at 2300 Expedition Way, is open for summer hours from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5.

The little blue penguins exhibit is included in the cost of general admission, which is $24.95 for adults and $19.95 for children ages 3-17. Reservations are required for all guests, including aquarium members.

The penguins also can be seen live through a new webcam at aquarium.ucsd.edu/penguincam.

For reservations or more information, visit aquarium.ucsd.edu.

La Jolla Light staff