Sunday, 4 September 2011

Goodbye Happy Feet – We wish you well

12.30 pm

Happy Feet, the emperor penguin that’s captured the hearts of New Zealanders and others around the world, has been released back into the Southern Ocean, off NIWA’s largest research vessel, Tangaroa.

Happy Feet was released at 10.30 am this morning, 49 miles due north of Campbell Island, at a depth of 285 metres.

The emperor penguin was released down a purpose-made ‘hydro-slide’ off the stern ramp of the vessel by Wellington Zoo, Manager of Veterinary Science, Dr Lisa Argilla and NIWA staff. Other options to release the Happy Feet, including using an inflatable boat, could not be used because of the rough seas.

Dr Argilla said the release went without a hitch.

 “Happy Feet needed some gentle encouragement to leave the safety of his crate that has been his home for six days. He slid down his specially designed penguin slide backwards but once he hit the water he spared no time in diving off away from the boat and all those ‘aliens’ who have been looking after him for so long.”

“It's an indescribable feeling to see a patient finally set free! It’s definitely the best part of the job,” Dr Argilla said.

The NIWA team onboard were all out on deck to farewell their special passenger. Everyone is glad he’s now been returned to his natural environment.

“It’s been a pleasure to have Happy Feet onboard. He’s been a well-behaved passenger, except when our team have helped to feed him, and he’s shown them who the boss is with a peck or two,” says voyage leader Dr Richard O’Driscoll. “We are just happy to help him on his journey home.”

Happy Feet left Wellington Zoo last Monday– his home for the last two months since being found exhausted and hungry on Peka Peka beach on the Kapiti Coast – in a travel crate specially designed to keep him cold and comfortable during the voyage.

Onboard Tangaroa Happy Feet has been treated to hoki for his meals and ‘room service’ with fresh ice put in his crate each day.

The team onboard Tangaroa will now continue their voyage on a month-long fisheries survey on Campbell Island southern blue whiting stocks.

Happy Feet has been fitted with a Sirtrack satellite tracker and a microchip, thanks to the generous support of Gareth Morgan. Fans can follow his progress at http://www.nzemperor.com. You can read travel blogs written by Dr Lisa Argilla here.

Photos and video are currently being transmitted from the Tangaroa and will be available later today.