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Pogo is her name, and fighting for African penguin conservation is her game

Pogo, the California Academy of Sciences’ newly named baby African penguin, is one of the first African penguin chicks to hatch since 2018. | Courtesy Gayle Laird/California Academy of Sciences

The votes are in! After nail-biting anticipation and the help of over 10,000 poll participants, the California Academy of Science’s previously unnamed baby African penguin chick will now go by “Pogo,” and she’s getting along swimmingly.

Why Pogo? It’s because baby penguins “do little hops,” according to the poll.

Cal Academy’s Steinhart Aquarium team had the tough task of narrowing down over 100 name suggestions pulled from a Twitter callout. That meant eliminating exciting contenders like Beaky Smalls, Freezy E and Ball Point Pen(guin).

From there they selected four finalists: Greta, Penny, Hope and, of course, Pogo. Each option had a unique meaning, from references to the species’ home in South Africa to global climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Holly Rosenblum interacts with Pogo on Jan. 5, 2023. | Courtesy Gayle Laird/California Academy of Sciences

“I’m partial to any names that refer back to South Africa,” said Brenda Melton, the director of animal care and welfare at Steinhart Aquarium, referring to Penny—a nod to South Africa’s Cape Peninsula—and Hope—referring to the Cape of Good Hope in Cape Town.

Community members were given three days to vote for their favorite of the finalists, with over 3,000 tallied for Pogo, making it the winner. 

Why all the buzz about Pogo? Well, she’s the first chick to be born into Cal Academy’s colony since 2018. Four years between chick hatches is not the norm, according to Melton, but who hasn’t had unexpected circumstances hold up plans in the last few years? 

Holly Rosenblum holds Pogo on Jan. 5, 2023. | Courtesy Gayle Laird/California Academy of Sciences

Born in November 2022, Pogo is now in adolescence. Her downy baby feathers are shedding and her flippers are hardening, getting her close to prime condition to start swimming soon. 

She’s also acting a bit feisty, like a teenager, according to Melton. This is the natural stage where, if Pogo were in the wild, she’d begin fending for herself. 

African penguins have been classified as endangered since 2010, and their population numbers continue to lower each year, said Melton. Cal Academy is one of 52 institutions across the country working to strengthen African penguin genetics through breeding to help sustain dwindling populations. 

Courtesy Gayle Laird/California Academy of Sciences

So not only is Pogo cute to watch grow up here in San Francisco, but she’s also hard at work advocating for her species.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Melton of the poll and community engagement. “I think it just shows how these birds and their story can really bring everybody together.”

Morgan Ellis can be reached at