Happy Feet’s Fate Still Being Debated

The fate of Happy Feet, the emperor penguin who washed up in New Zealand, 2000 miles from his Antarctic home, remained a mystery despite persistent questioning in the New Zealand parliament on Thursday.  Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley could only tell the House of

Happy Feet before released.

Representatives that it was “highly improbable” that he was caught in the nets of a trawler after being released into the Southern Ocean September 4. The saga of Happy Feet has been followed by thousands around the world since he was nursed back to health after being found on a North Island beach eating sand under the impression it was snow. Fans expressed alarm when the satellite transmitter glued to his feathers stopped sending signals eight days after he was freed from a boat into the near-freezing waters off New Zealand’s Campbell Island. There was immediate speculation that he had been eaten by a whale or some other monster of the deep, but Green member of parliament Gareth Hughes suspected he had been swept up in the nets of one of nine trawlers recorded around Happy Feet’s last known location. The boats, trawling for southern blue whiting, or blue cod, were 37 to 55 kilometres away from the penguin at the time of the last transmission. “A southern blue whiting trawler can cover 50 nautical miles (893 kilometres) in a day, and we are talking about an incredibly long net that is almost half a kilometre wide and 75 metres high,” Hughes said. “How can the minister claim that it is very unlikely that Happy Feet was possibly trawled?” he asked. As the speaker tried to keep order amid the festive noise of the last day of parliament before next month’s general election, Heatley reminded parliament that the closest vessel was 32 kilometers away when the transmissions fell silent. “Its fishing lines are not 32 kilometers long,” he said. “That would have meant that the vessel raced the transponder’s emission, which went probably faster than – or close to – the speed of light. That would have been a very fast fishing vessel, indeed.” Heatley said ministry officials had been monitoring the fishing boats and Happy Feet’s transponder on adjacent screens, and they never came near each other.

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