New Zealand Penguin Gets a Ticket Home

August 18, 2011; 10:33 AM ET
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"Happy Feet" on Peka Peka Beach, New Zealand, on June 21, 2011. (AP Photo/N.Z. Herald, Mark Mitchell)

The Emperor penguin that turned up stranded on a New Zealand beach, far from his native range in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, has been scheduled to return south on a research ship.

Restored to health since the June stranding, the wayward bird, named "Happy Feet," will be shipped back to the Southern Ocean on Aug. 29, the UK's Telegraph reported on Wednesday.

The ship Tangaroa is slated to sail out of Wellington on a mission to carry out research on Southern Ocean Fisheries, according to the Telegraph.

Happy Feet will be freed near Campbell Island in waters which are within the normal feeding range of Emperor penguins. Hope is that the bird will then finish the last 1,250 miles of the long trek back to Antarctica, where Emperors have their breeding colonies.

A satellite tracking device will let scientists and the public follow his progress through the website of the New Zealand zoo involved in his care.

The zoo's executive chief director, Karen Fifield, that Happy Feet's specially designed crate would keep him "cold and comfortable," and that three people, including a vet, would be tasked with looking after him.

The 26-kg (57-lb) penguin somehow strayed the better part of a thousand miles from its customary feeding areas before ending up on a North Island, New Zealand, beach in June.

It is hard to say whether storms or abnormal currents played a part in his wanderings.

Reports at the time of the June incident suggested that the penguin's swallowing of sand from the New Zealand beach, necessitating a two-hour medical operation, was a normal reaction to thirst. In its native Antarctica, the Emperor penguin can simply scoop up snow to get fresh water.

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