A penguin chick is being raised by two "mums" at Kelly Tarlton's aquarium in Auckland.

The aquarium fostered the chick with the two female king penguins after the chick's mother, Shaq, was abandoned by her male partner.

The two females, dubbed Thelma and Louise after a 1991 Hollywood road film, are the only same-sex couple at Kelly Tarlton's, but same-sex couples are known in other king penguin populations.

"Usually king penguins will bond with a mate. This can be male-male, female-female or male-female," said Kelly Tarlton's guest experience team leader Ebony Dwipayana.


"King penguins have to incubate their egg on their feet for 55 days, so if you think of all of that stress - you need to eat, bathe and even exercise - Shaq was not able to do it by herself as a single mum.

"Shaq unfortunately had her partner leave her, so instead of being able to swap and change every three days with her partner, she had to incubate the egg by herself.

"So we actually made that decision to foster that egg, and Thelma and Louise were lucky enough to take care of it and have got a successful chick out of it.

"They actually love having a chick to look after. Obviously they are not able to have their own, so the fact that they can still raise a healthy chick is amazing for them and it's quite an experience for them to share."

King penguins breed on subantarctic islands south of New Zealand, Africa and South America. They are reported to have only one mate in each year, but only 29 per cent keep the same mate from one year to the next.