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Seven Humboldt penguins drown at Calgary Zoo

Last Updated Dec 8, 2016 at 9:27 pm EST

Humboldt Penguins swim in their pool (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

The Calgary Zoo says seven of its Humboldt penguins drowned in their holding area.

Jamie Dorgan, director of animal care, says an investigation has begun to try to figure out what happened.

“Very, very shocked to come in this morning and find that we had seven Humboldt penguins dead in their pool,” Dorgan said Thursday afternoon.

“We didn’t see it coming at all, everybody looked great when the zookeeper left yesterday at 4 o’clock and yeah, we’re very surprised.”

They drowned in the holding room pool – their exhibit had been closed at the time for maintenance.

Dorgan doesn’t think the two are related.

He also says they’ve sampled the water, looked at the temperature and tested the air conditioners and nothing appears to be out of sorts.

The other 15 Humboldts that made up the colony are doing fine, Dorgan said.

It’s baffling that the penguins drowned, he added.

“They do need to breathe air, so something would have occurred at some period yesterday evening, last night, early this morning, that caused these penguins to not be able to take a breath…

“We’re not 100 per cent completely sure why that was, it appears to be some kind of mass panic or something like that at night, but we really don’t know.”

Humboldts live off the coasts of Chile and Peru, and weigh no more than about six kilograms when fully grown.

The zoo has three other species of penguins, including kings, gentoos and rockhoppers.

The zoo has made headlines in the past over the deaths of its animals, including an otter, a giant capybara, a caribou calf and stingrays.