Sunday 19 November 2017

New Zealand penguin Happy Feet may have been eaten

Bonnie Malkin

Happy Feet, the Emperor penguin that was found on a New Zealand beach after wandering thousands of miles from home, may be lost forever.

Scientists have said that the bird, who won the hearts of thousands around the world with his story of survival against the odds, may have been eaten by a shark or killer whale after being released back into the wild.

The three-and-a-half year old bird shot to stardom after it was discovered disoriented and desperately ill on a New Zealand beach in June.

After months of intensive rehabilitation, including several life saving operations, at Wellington Zoo, the wayward penguin was released back into the waters of the Southern Ocean on Sept 4, complete with a transmitting device glued to its back so that researchers could plot its progress.

However, on Friday the transmitter fell silent, prompting fears that Happy Feet had met a sticky end.

Sirtrack, the company monitoring Happy Feet's transmissions, said the lack of data indicated that the satellite transmitter had not broken the surface of the water since that time.

"This leads to the conclusion that either the satellite transmitter has detached or an unknown event has prevented Happy Feet from resurfacing," it said in a statement.

The transmitter had been designed to detach from Happy Feet's back when he moults in the new year, and transmissions could have been affected by recent solar flares, but Kevin Lay, a wildlife consultant at Sirtrack, said fans of the penguin must also face up to the fact that Happy Feet could have been eaten by a larger animal.

"That's what makes the world go around," he told the Dominion Post.

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