UPDATED: A new check of nesting areas inside the Atlanterhavsparken aquarium in Ålesund, where partying students known as “russ” were accused of stealing baby penguins, led to the discovery Monday of two dead penguin chicks. One baby penguin remains missing and the search for it continued.
The discovery added a new twist to the case of the missing penguins that’s had major media coverage in Norway over the past week. Police Inspector Yngve Skovly told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the surprise discovery of the dead penguins was made during a reinspection of all the nesting areas inside the aquarium’s penguin enclosure.
Trampled to death
“It wasn’t easy to find them, because their bodies were trampled down in the twigs and other nesting material that was lying in the boxes,” Skovly told NRK. He said he couldn’t answer whether the penguin chicks were hidden by people or the penguins themselves.
“We have no reason to believe they were hidden by people,” Skovly said. Police later said they think grown penguins have themselves trampled the babies to death.
That throws the police’s own case against four russ, to men and two women, into doubt. They were charged with cruelty to animals for allegedly taking the baby penguins away from the warmth and feeding of their parents. Video surveillance cameras revealed that seven russ broke into the penguin enclosure last week and the four charged have admitted to the offense, but not that they took any baby penguins.
The discovery of the penguins dead inside the park “strengthens the credibility of the statements from those charged in the case,” Skovly admitted to NRK. The lawyer for one of the young men charged, Axel Lange, said the police’s new information on Monday “confirms what my client had told them, that he did not take any penguins out of Atlanerhavsparken. I think it’s very, very unfortunate that Atlanterhavsparken blamed the russ so early.”
Park officials, who had said over the weekend that they’d lost hope of finding the baby penguins alive, had no immediate intention of issuing any apology to the russ. “We have been in a situation where the penguins were extremely agitated (by russ breaking into their enclosure),” aquarium leader Tor Erik Standal told NRK. “That’s why we waited with a more thorough search of the entire area.”
Standal suspects the baby penguins may have been trampled by the grown penguins because they were stressed, and that the russ may have caused that stress. There is no question that russ invaded their area during a late-night prank. Attorney Lange said he was surprised the park didn’t have better security.
One penguin chick and an unhatched egg remained missing Monday afternoon. Skovly said hopes now had risen that they’d find the third missing chick.