11/20/2012 at 11:00 AM EST
It's a love story for the ages, like Prince William
, or Beyoncé
and Jay-Z. It's a tale perhaps even more complicated than the storied saga
of Justin Bieber
and Selena Gomez
Meet the ultimate lovebirds: a pair of Magellanic penguins who have stayed committed to each other, through thick and thin ice, for the past 16 years.
Biologists say their relationship has lasted almost their entire breeding life, including gaps of time apart that included 200,000 miles worth of solo trips, according to the U.K.'s Telegraph
. Penguins typically live about 20 years after they start breeding, proving these two truly have grown old together.
"The bond they have is incredible, really," says Dr. Pablo Garcia Borboroglu, a researcher at the National Research Council of Argentina who's led the study. "It is unbelievable how far Magellanic penguins swim, and each breeding season, they come back to the same nest and to the same partner."
But the course of true love doesn't always run smooth. If a couple has an issue breeding, such as when their chicks don't hatch, they leave each other. And it's a journey: they spend their summer breeding season living on the Patagonian coastline of southern Argentina (where researchers in this 30-year study put metal bands on the flippers of 50,000 penguins to monitor their progress) before they head to Brazil for the winter. In the spring, after 10,000 miles apart, penguins return to their old nest – and their original partner.
Even so, this 16-years-strong relationship trumps other faithful pairs whose own love stories often end in tragedy, typically when their offspring die at the hands of predators or because of starvation.
"Many pairs stay together for five or even 10 years," says expert Dr. Dee Boersma of the University of Washington. "The fate of most penguin chicks is to die."