Happy Feet Heads Home to Antarctica

By Diane Cordemans
Diane Cordemans
Diane Cordemans
August 29, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015
The emperor penguin nicknamed 'Happy Feet' (C) is carried off a vehicle to be loaded onto the New Zealand research ship 'Tangaroa' in Wellington on Aug. 29, 2011, before making the four-day journey to the Southern Ocean, east of Campbell Island.  (Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images)
The emperor penguin nicknamed 'Happy Feet' (C) is carried off a vehicle to be loaded onto the New Zealand research ship 'Tangaroa' in Wellington on Aug. 29, 2011, before making the four-day journey to the Southern Ocean, east of Campbell Island. (Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images)

Happy Feet is on his way back to the Antarctica aboard NIWA’s largest research vessel, Tangaroa, after being nursed back to health at Wellington Zoo for the last nine weeks.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research’s (NIWA) ship had already been scheduled to head south for further studies on fish stocks and would putting Happy Feet into the ocean at around 53 degrees. The journey was expected to take four days.

The three and a half year old juvenile emperor penguin was discovered exhausted and hungry on Peka Peka Beach, Kapiti Coast on June 26, some 3000 kilometres from his feeding grounds. His plight shot him to celebrity status almost overnight.

Wellington Zoo media spokesperson, Kate Baker, said that it had been wonderful to see the outpouring of support for Happy Feet both in New Zealand and overseas. Public donations, which have reached $27,000, have covered Happy Feet’s care and medical treatment during his stay at the zoo.

Happy Feet in a specially built crate on the research ship Tangaroa awaiting the four-day trip back to the Southern Ocean, east of Campbell Island.  (Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images)
Happy Feet in a specially built crate on the research ship Tangaroa awaiting the four-day trip back to the Southern Ocean, east of Campbell Island. (Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images)
Happy Feet fans had the rare opportunity of seeing him in the flesh at a farewell party held at the zoo last Sunday. A goodbye card was signed by the 1700 visitors who watched the penguin being fitted with a Sirtrack satellite tracker.

The tracker would work for four or five months after which it would fall off when he begins to moult, said Ms Baker.

“He walked into his travel crate and from the travel crate on to the boat. Didn’t even need to be picked up,” she said describing Happy Feet boarding the Tangaroa, at Burnham Wharf, Wellington, last night.

Dr Lisa Argilla, manager of Veterinary Science at the zoo will be taking care of Happy Feet during the voyage assisted by NIWA staff. The penguin, who will be kept in a crate, requires a change of ice every morning to keep him cool and needs feeding every afternoon.

Associate Professor John Cockrem, from the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Science says the plan to release Happy Feet into the Southern Ocean is a good one.

“Fifty-three degrees south is at the upper range of the area where other juvenile emperor penguins will be at the moment. The two to four year olds generally head to sea before returning to Antarctica to breed at four or five years of age,” he said in a press release.

Penguins have a natural sun compass so Happy Feet will have no trouble finding his way home, Dr Cockrem says. “He seems to be in very good shape after rehabilitating at Wellington Zoo.”

The satellite-tracking device that has been attached to him would allow people to follow his progress on the Internet.