26 Jul 2011

Icy conditions perfect for Happy Feet's first dip

8:42 am on 26 July 2011

The emperor penguin that came ashore on the Kapiti Coast last month has taken his first dip in salt water since being rescued.


The Antarctic bird, nicknamed Happy Feet, is recuperating at Wellington Zoo, following several operations to remove sand, rocks and sticks from his stomach.

Manager veterinary science at the zoo, Dr Lisa Argilla, says the below 5°C temperatures in Wellington suited the penguin.

She says he's pretty strong, as he tried to jump out of the water, and is ready to be released soon.

Vets operated four times to remove unsuitable material the bird swallowed.

Zoo spokesperson Kate Baker says donations are covering the cost of treating and feeding Happy Feet.

The bird was first spotted by a woman walking her dog along Peka Peka beach on 20 June.

An expert group comprising the Department of Conservation (DoC), Te Papa, Massey University and the zoo has recommended he be released to the ocean south-east of New Zealand.

"The reason for not returning the penguin directly to Antarctica is that emperor penguins of this age are usually found north of Antarctica on pack ice and in the open ocean," says DoC biodiversity spokesperson Peter Simpson.