Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Wellington Zoo and NIWA are pleased to announce that ‘Happy Feet’, the emperor penguin, is set to return home to the subantartic, onboard NIWA’s largest research vessel, Tangaroa.

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Tangaroa, New Zealand’s most sophisticated research vessel, is due to depart Wellington on the 29th of August for a month-long fisheries survey on Campbell Island southern blue whiting. On the way the emperor penguin will be released from the ship, approximately four days out to sea, at about 53 degrees south.

Dr Lisa Argilla, Manager Veterinary Science at Wellington Zoo, will accompany the penguin on his journey home.  She will be assisted by two NIWA staff who are on the vessel for the fisheries survey.  They will be trained to help Dr Argilla feed and care for the penguin before the voyage departs.  

Happy Feet will be housed in a specially designed travel crate constructed by Wellington Zoo staff, designed to keep him cold and comfortable during the voyage.

NIWA General Manager of Research, Dr Rob Murdoch, says the month-long Ministry of Fisheries-funded voyage is NIWA’s tenth acoustic survey of Campbell Island southern blue whiting stocks.

“It is really fortuitous that we are able to assist with Happy Feet’s return during our scheduled scientific work on blue whiting stocks. This fishery is in a very healthy state. Current stocks are estimated to be at or above fishery target levels, and predicted to grow stronger in coming years.”

“The NIWA team are looking forward to having this extra special guest onboard the vessel with us for the journey. Happy Feet has captured the hearts of New Zealanders and people across the world, and we’re pleased to be able to help safely return him to the Southern Ocean.”
“We are really pleased that NIWA will be releasing the emperor penguin,” said Wellington Zoo Chief Executive Karen Fifield. “This is an excellent result for everyone involved, and for the penguin, and is a great example of organisations working together for the best outcome.”

“It is a fantastic coincidence that the Tangaroa’s journey takes it to 53 degrees south, which is within the natural range of juvenile emperor penguins – they are often spotted on Campbell Island which lies at the same latitude.”

Before the boat departs, Happy Feet will be fitted with a GPS tracker, thanks to the generous support of Gareth Morgan and Sirtrack. Fans will be able to follow his progress on both the Sirtrack website  and the Our Far South website.