By RNZ

It's one of the ultimate feathered face-offs - where the casanovas, power couples, and food thieves vie to rule the roost.

Voting for the national aquarium's Penguin of the Year competition has opened for the public to have their say.

Fighting to maintain the top spot is Timmy, who has a habit of stealing fish, knocking other penguins out of the way, and flicking sand at the keepers.

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Rebekah Cuthbert from the National Aquarium of New Zealand told Morning Report it is predominantly a rehabilitation centre for the birds, and while generally they can be returned to the wild, some who won't be able to survive by themselves stay.

Penguins from the aquarium have become social media stars and votes in previous competitions have come from around the world including Estonia, Vietnam, Belarus and Guatemala.

She said the competition highlights how endangered the species are.

"We've got a couple that are missing flippers after being tangled in things like net and fishing line, others are partially sighted, either due to predator attacks and things like that. There's many problems that they can face out there."

She said it's important to keep your dogs on a lead and pick up fishing line if you see it. If you do see a penguin in the wild, keep your distance.

Cuthbert said her favourite was Dora because she raised her from a small chick, although she has a bit of attitude.

The penguins:

Elmo, Martin and Dave. Photo / National Aquarium
Elmo, Martin and Dave. Photo / National Aquarium

• Elmo is a very old penguin, she's 18 years old this year which is equivalent to 90-100 human years, and lost her right flipper after being entangled in fishing line. As she is almost blind from having cataracts she doesn't like leaving her burrow so often gets room service at feeding time. However she's been coming out recently for her meals. She enjoys living with Mo and Betty to keep her company. The keepers gently dip her in the water to help keep her nice and clean and to encourage preening.

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• Martin is the newest arrival and quickly made a name for himself as a cassanova. Due to a predator attack he has a permanently dislocated flipper, meaning he's not a very strong swimmer. Despite his initial arrival Martin appears to have settled down with Burny. They're often found being quite lazy together.

• Dave is the youngest bird, his parents are Captain and Flip. A typical teenager, he thinks he rules the roost and often tries to chase other penguins away from the feed station (though the older boys know how to put him in his place). He has fun chasing the keeper's window cleaner or trying to steal Dora's spotlight.

Betty, Burny and Captain. Photo / National Aquarium
Betty, Burny and Captain. Photo / National Aquarium

• Betty is generally a well behaved penguin and was the first ever Good Penguin of the Month. She loves swimming all day which is good for penguins and always waits patiently for her food - not like the others. She was brought to the National Aquarium as a malnourished chick. Her feet have a slight deformity, they're slightly smaller than usual - "ballerina feet" would be a polite way to describe them. She lives with Elmo, a female, and Mo, a male.

• Burny - Weighing in at an average of 800g, she's one of the smallest penguins and was brought to the National Aquarium with the soles of her feet burnt from a fire on the beach not being extinguished properly. She's picked up on some of Mo's bad habits pecking others in the face during feeding time, stealing Mo's fish and she recently abandoned her egg in her friend Draco's burrow. She's two years old and seems to have found a partner in Martin.

• Captain the one of our nicest penguins. He lost his right eye in an altercation with another sea bird and must be fed from his left side. He and Flip are together and share a burrow. He is a good dad and is punctual when it comes to feeding times - eats first and leaves first. He's been awarded Good Penguin for standing up for himself against Tux.

Dora, Draco and Flip. Photo / National Aquarium
Dora, Draco and Flip. Photo / National Aquarium

• Dora was abandoned at only five days old and was brought to the National Aquarium where she grew up and is now very comfortable around humans. Last year Dora was often naughty for pecking male keepers and needing escorting to and from the feed station. This year she's turned it around and is extra friendly, even comes over to the scales on weigh day. She is the princess.

• Draco is one of the oldest penguins. She was hit by a car while crossing the road and has been left with a head injury. She's very friendly and is often visiting other penguins in their burrows. She and Timmy are a couple and has received good penguin of the month recently for taking care of Burny's egg which she left in her burrow, and also sticking up for Timmy when Tux tried to push him off the pier.

• Flip - Left flipper amputee, Flip, is generally a well behaved penguin. She is a good role model, swims well, eats nicely, stands up for her boyfriend when younger birds are picking on him and knows how to penguin well. However early this year she abandoned her boyfriend Captain and their baby for an entire week.

Lulu, Mo and Mr Mac. Photo / National Aquarium
Lulu, Mo and Mr Mac. Photo / National Aquarium

• Lulu is the sweetest little penguin and seven years old and Pepper is her daughter. Unfortunately due to a birth defect, she is blind in one eye and has limited vision in the other. This doesn't put her off swimming however, even though she tends to swim in circles. She won Good Penguin of the Month last year for being helpful, friendly and co-operative. However in February she was naughty penguin for being extra snappy when eating. It's not all her fault - Mr Mac does try to steal her fish.

• Mo - Last year Mo was the naughtiest penguin (appearing on the list more than any other penguin) and a finalist for Penguin of the Year. The name and shame seems to have worked and although still naughty, his behaviour has improved. The keepers suspect it is the influence of his two girlfriends Elmo and Betty. His previous antics include hoarding nesting materials, stealing fish from other penguins and recently being super lazy. Mo is seven years old and was abandoned as a chick.

• Mr Mac is 10 years old and was abandoned as a chick. He is a sweetie but tends to think he's better than everyone else, refusing to take fish off visitors if they're 'not worthy'. Usually kind to his predominantly blind girlfriend Lulu, he fell from grace when he tried to steal her fish in August this year.

Pepper, Timmy and Tux. Photo / National Aquarium
Pepper, Timmy and Tux. Photo / National Aquarium

• Pepper - One of the youngest penguins, Pepper, is Mr Mac and Lulu's chick. She is one of the smaller penguins and is one of the prettiest. She looks after herself well and has an eye for detail. She and Tux are seen as the popular power couple. She's generally a good penguin, encouraging Tux to go swimming, but also plays with her food at times.

• Timmy is the reigning Penguin of the Year, battling it out with Mo last year to take the crown. He was our first ever Naughty Penguin of the Month back in 2017. He has a habit of stealing fish, knocking other penguins out of the way to get the food and flicking sand at the keepers. His behaviour has improved recently though. Timmy's four years old and was found on a local beach with a spinal injury from a boat strike. He's had chiropractic work and can now walk but is still pretty wobbly on his feet. He's a great swimmer too.

• Tux is the handsome, popular and boisterous penguin. He was an abandoned chick and was taken to the National Aquarium to be taken care of. He can be a bad boy, has pushed Timmy off the pier and more recently chased other penguins away from the feed station when they got too close to his girlfriend Pepper.

You can vote for your favourite penguin on the National Aquarium website. The first round closes on Wednesday October 9.

-RNZ