Two penguins who recently lost their partners seem to comfort one another in an iconic photo

Forgive me as I wax rhapsodic about penguins, but this truly is just the sweetest thing.

Photographer Tobias Baumgaertner has captured hearts around the world with his photo of two fairy penguins, one with its flipper around the other, as they appear to stare at the lights of Melbourne, Australia across the water. At first glance, one might assume that Baumgaertner just got lucky, snapping the photo just as one penguin was stretching or something, but videos he shared on Instagram show how genuinely touching the moment really was.

According to BBC News, St Kilda Pier in Melbourne is home to a colony of around 1,400 fairy penguins, the world's smallest penguin species, and the population is monitored by volunteers. One of them approached Baumgaertner as he was shooting and told him that the white penguin was an elderly lady who had lost her partner and the younger male to the left had also.


"Since then they meet regularly comforting each other and standing together for hours watching the dancing lights of the nearby city," Baumgaertner wrote on Instagram. "I spend 3 full nights with this penguin colony until I was able to get this picture. Between not being able or allowed to use any lights and the tiny penguins continuously moving, rubbing their flippers on each other's backs and cleaning one another, it was really hard to get a shot but i got lucky during one beautiful moment."

"The way that these two lovebirds were caring for one another stood out from the entire colony," he wrote in another Instagram post. "While all the other penguins were sleeping or running around, those two seemed to just stand there and enjoy every second they had together, holding each other in their flippers and talking about penguin stuff."

The photo, which was actually taken in 2019, recently won the Community Choice award in Oceanographic magazine's Ocean Photograph Awards.

Baumgaertner also shared a video of the penguins, showing how close they were. However, he also shared a caveat about anthropomorphizing animals too much.

"I am a dreamer," he wrote. "I believe that it is important to have dreams as they make life worth living and give love meaning. I previously shared these penguin images to spread love because that, I believed, is what the world needed most right now. It was never intended to be scientifically accurate as it was quite obviously romanticized by adding my personal feelings of being separated from and longing for the one I can't live without. I wrote these words from the bottom of my heart and never expected so many people to connect with them.

Like with anything else in life too much of one thing has the potential to become dangerous and while we don't know what goes on in these little penguins I've been advised by the scientific community that anthropomorphizing animals can have a negative influence on them as it "can... lead to inappropriate behaviors towards wild animals". This is especially the case for animals living in such close proximity to the city as they are already dealing with various challenges. I have further been advised that these two could be related, ...the exact relation of these two is at this point probably hard to figure out but I am happy to hear that if they are not friends then they might at least be family.

Either way I believe that this was a truly beautiful and magical moment that spread so much love around the world. I also believe that humans protect what they can connect with and it acts as a reminder that we share this beautiful world with many other beings which come in various shapes and sizes, degrees of fluffiness and colors as well as with specific needs crucial for their survival. It presents us with just one of many reasons why we should protect the ones with no voice to stand up for themselves and most importantly it has shown us that if we care and come together we could change the world..."

Indeed, as the world reels from the widespread losses from the coronavirus pandemic, we need all the comfort we can get. If that comes in the form of a penguin photo that touches on the grief so many are experiencing and the connections that bring joy to our lives, so be it.

Several photos of the penguins are available for purchase on Baumgaertner's website.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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