As told to the Penguin Post Happy Feet is free at last. The wayward emperor penguin dubbed “Happy Feet” is back in the ocean south of New Zealand. The penguin was released from the research vessel Tangaroa on Sunday morning about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of remote Campbell Island in water about 935 feet (285 meters) deep. Wellington Zoo veterinarian Lisa Argilla said Happy Feet needed some “gentle encouragement” to leave the purpose-built crate that had been his home on the boat for six days. He slid down a makeshift ramp backward and then took off.
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The Penguin Post has learned that Happy Feet has taken to sleeping while standing up, and appears unperturbed by the 7-metre swells which are delaying his release. The penguin, which is still being kept in his crate on board the research vessel Tangaroa, now looks likely to be set free tomorrow. The Niwa team on board the vessel said he was coping well with the sway of the boat which is battling very rough and high seas with strong swells. “He is even sleeping standing up, keeping perfect balance.” Yet while he may seem calm, he has lost none of his stroppiness or impatience to be released. “When he wakes up, he squawks at the crew passing by and seems to know he is near home territory.” Wellington Zoo vet Lisa Argilla, who is traveling on board the vessel with Happy Feet, said he was doing well, standing in his crate, and taking the conditions in his stride. Yesterday’s 12 foot swells were likely to be topped by 20 foot seas today. The boat had slowed down for safety reasons she said. “The Tangaroa is a reasonably big boat and the ocean is tossing her around as if she was a toy,” Dr Argilla said. Conditions were likely to clear tomorrow. Once the boat reaches a latitude of about 51 degrees, Happy Feet will be released off the back of the boat using the ship’s ramp where the crew will set up a specially-designed tarpaulin to slide him down.
Everyone’s favorite wayward penguin affectionately dubbed Happy Feet craned his head, flapped his flippers and seemed just a little perturbed as he began his journey home to colder, more penguin friendly waters Monday. The young penguin was moved from the Wellington Zoo, where staff has cared for him in 5 star penguin luxury the past two months to the research ship Tangaroa, which will release him after four days at sea when they arrive at the latitude of 51 degrees south. Happy Feet has been placed in a custom-made crate for the journey and will be kept cool with 60 buckets of ice, and the Penguin Post has learned he’ll be fed his favorite fresh fish until his release. The Tangaroa is New Zealand’s largest research vessel and was already scheduled to head into frigid southern waters to check on fish numbers in order to set fishing quotas. To re-cap, the 3-foot-tall penguin was found on a New Zealand beach June 20, far from his Antarctic feeding grounds. He was moved to the zoo after he became ill from eating sand that he undoubtedly mistook for snow. He’s since regained weight and been medically cleared to be returned to the wild. Lisa Argilla, a veterinarian who has helped nurse the penguin back to health, said he has a “stronger and stroppier attitude” than when he first arrived at the zoo, when his demeanor seemed flat and his feather condition was poor. A classic indicator of a sick penguin. “He’s definitely a survivor,” she said. He’s also become quite the penguin superstar. Thousands of viewers have watched him eat, sleep and waddle on a 24 hour a day zoo webcam. And the Penguin Post has learned that he’s been fitted with a GPS tracker so people can follow his progress online after he is released. “He’s brought a lot of hope and joy to people,” said Karen Fifield, Wellington Zoo’s chief executive. “His story has driven to the heart of what makes us human.” The boat’s skipper Richard O’Driscoll said that once the Tangaroa has reached the drop-off point, he will likely cut the engines and then release the penguin from the deck into the sea using a makeshift canvas slide (we can’t wait to see that). More than 1,700 people went to the zoo Sunday to bid goodbye to Happy Feet, who was visible in a glassed area while getting final medical checks. The zoo has covered the cost of his stay with about $28,000 in donations. Argilla said she will miss Happy Feet but hopes it will be the last she sees of him. By next year, she said, he will be old enough to find a mate and breed, and if that isn’t incentive to leave his Wellington Zoo enclosure then nothing is.
Follow Happy Feet’s progress at http://www.niwa.co.nz or http://www.sirtrack.com
Crowds of people are expected to turn up to Wellington Zoo in New Zealand today to bid farewell Happy Feet. The farewell at the zoo comes a day before Happy Feet is due to begin his voyage home to Antarctica on Niwa’s research vessel Tangaroa. The Penguin Post has learned that Happy Feet, accompanied by the zoo’s head vet Lisa Argilla, is scheduled to leave Wellington on the boat at 6pm. The penguin will be released in the Southern Ocean four days into the ship’s month-long trip to the Campbell Islands, 700km south of New Zealand. As part of today’s celebrations, called ”Haere Ra Happy Feet”, visitors have been encouraged to dress up in black and white and have the chance to sign a farewell card. At 3pm Happy Feet will go under anaesthetic for the final time for a final health check and so a GPS tracking device can be attached to him. Wellington Zoo spokeswoman Kate Baker said Happy Feet was in good health for the trip and was expected to pass the final check up with flying colors. She said today’s event was a chance for people, including zoo staff, to say goodbye to the bird, which had captured everyone’s imagination. ”We suspect it will be a big day, yesterday we had 1500 people come through the zoo, so we will probably have that many again,” Ms Baker said. On Wednesday, when there was a $5 entry fee, 2950 people visited the zoo, she said. Ms Baker said that all up, including the voyage to Antarctica, the penguin had cost about $30,000 to look after, which had been covered by donations from the public, a $5000 donation from businessman Gareth Morgan and about $7500 which had so far been raised through a promotion from chip maker Bluebird. Asked whether the zoo should have intervened when Happy Feet was found on the beach in June Ms Baker said: ”We are doing what we can to help him, and I think that’s the right thing to do, we do that all the time with all sorts of animals. ”That’s what we do here.”