I just got back from March of the Penguins. GO WATCH THIS MOVIE! There's love, heartache, hardships, triumph, and the most adorable critters you've ever seen. Seriously, when the first baby chick poked its little head out from under its daddy, it was so cute, I couldn't stand it!
We're told that Emperor Penguins are semi-monogamous; they have only one mate for the entire season. Sometimes the women even fight each other to win their men! ("Girrrl, are you lookin at MY tuxedo? Oh, no, you did'unt!") The mother and father take turns traveling miles for days to bring back food for their young. Unfortunately, not everyone survives, and my heart just broke every time they showed a loss.
The question is, if one or both parents don't make it or they abandon their penguin baby, then what happens? Is there chick adoption? I found two possible answers:
1. Some dude who's been living with penguins for more than a year says, "Unfortunately no, the chick will starve and die since they are still too young to swim for their own food. Adults already have a hard time feeding one chick. Sometimes lonely females (those that failed to mate that year) grab abandoned eggs, but those eggs are frozen and dead in the first place and they abandon them quickly. If the mother doesn't return, the father doesn't have a choice: he and his chick will die if he stays. If he leaves he can always try mating with more success the next year..."
2. The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour has a slightly more positive view. "The researchers found that adopted chicks were either 'kidnapped' by adults other than their genetic parents or were found wandering around the colony by other adult birds and then adopted. When kidnapping takes place the researchers observed that the biological parent always fought the intruders (either by pecking at it or striking it with a flipper) but that if the kidnapping was successful the parent almost never tried to re-capture its chick.... The scientists also found that most adoptions are only temporary, however. For example, in 1993 the mean length of time that adoption lasted was 1.89 days."
There's a suspenseful attempted kidnapping in the movie. I won't tell you if it's successful. You'll have to see for yourself. And you should. You SO should.