Tag Archives: Seabirds

Antarctic penguin getting intensive care

UPDATE: Thursday, Aug. 18

Our friend Happy Feet is going to hitch a ride part of the way home on Aug. 29, when he is taken aboard a research vessel operated by the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. See the latest news release from Wellington Zoo.

Dr. Lisa Argilla, manager of veterinary science at the zoo, will accompany Happy Feet with assistance from two NIWA staff, who will be trained before departure. Rob Murdoch, NIWA’s general manager of Research, was quoted in the news release:

“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.”


UPDATE: Thursday, Aug. 4

Happy Feet may be headed headed home to the Antarctic later this month, Wellington Zoo officials have announced.

The date of his departure will depend on the availability of a ship, but the plan is to truck the bird to New Zealand’s South Island, then transport him by ship. He will have a microchip implanted in his leg, which may be detected at Antarctic outposts where penguins are monitored. A satellite transmitter glued to his feathers will follow his precise movements until it falls off during molting in April. See Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal.

UPDATE: Thursday, July 7, 8:40 a.m.

We are now able to call Happy Feet a “he” instead of an “it,” since DNA has confirmed that he is a male.

The Wellington Zoo, which is taking donations to help pay for his eventual release, has set up a live video camera for people to watch the bird in his enclosure. There is not much to see, as Happy Feet rests most of the time, except when he is brought in fish to eat or fresh ice to keep cool. The infrared camera shows a black-and-white picture. Happy Feet is kept in the dark to simulate current seasonal conditions in the Antarctic.

A video report by The Associated Press updates the story and features some of the get-well cards that Happy Feet has been getting from children around the world.

Wellington Zoo’s Facebook page includes ongoing updates and some artwork that children have sent.

UPDATE: Wednesday, June 29, 10:01 a.m.

A group appointed to advise New Zealand authorities on the fate of Happy Feet is recommending that the penguin be released into the Southern Ocean southeast of New Zealand, but not in Antarctica.

“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,” said Peter Simpson, spokesman for the New Zealand Department of Conservation, who was quoted in a story on Forbes.com.

UPDATE: Tuesday, June 28, 7:24 a.m.

Happy Feet has perked up after veterinarians and a gastroenterologist (medical doctor) removed 6.6 pounds of sand from its stomach.

“Yesterday he actually punched me in the stomach with his flipper,” said Lisa Argilla, a veterinarian at Wellington Zoo, who was pleased with the increased activity, including vocalizations.

We still don’t know if the animal is male or female, though tests are pending.

Reuters has a good report, including video.

A lot of folks around the world were fascinated last week with news that an emperor penguin was found alone on a beach in New Zealand — and more than a few people are wondering what will happen next. Well, much has happened since the first news reports, but the bird’s fate remains uncertain.

The penguin, which should have been living with its kind far to the south in Antarctica, apparently took one or more wrong turns, swam 2,500 miles and found itself on New Zealand’s Peka Peka Beach. There, the bird became a popular attraction among local residents.

“It was out of this world to see it, like someone just dropped it from the sky,” Christine Wilton was quoted as saying in an Associated Press story. Wilton was walking her dog Monday when she spotted the black-and-white bird.

According to reports, this is the first emperor penguin to visit New Zealand in 44 years. Although its sex has not been determined, this penguin was nicknamed “Happy Feet” after the movie about emperor penguins.

At first, wildlife authorities chose to leave the penguin alone. The bird seemed healthy, and they hoped that it would leave on its own. They knew that elephant seals and leopard seals from Antarctica sometimes come and go from New Zealand shores.

But by Friday morning in New Zealand (which is 19 hours ahead of Pacific Time), the bird was lethargic. Veterinarians noted that the bird was eating sand and sticks, and they were concerned about a possible infection. The bird may have been eating sand in an effort to cool down, experts speculated, since penguins often eat snow and ice when they get too hot.

Happy Feet was picked up and taken to Wellington Zoo, where it has undergone three procedures over the past few days. On Monday morning, veterinarians, assisted by a human doctor, performed an endoscopy to see what was in the bird’s stomach. They removed about half the debris, hoping the rest would pass naturally.

Happy Feet seems to be doing well, according to zoo officials, but it is listed in critical condition because of the number of sticks that remain in the animal’s stomach.

If he or she survives, experts will decide if they should prepare for a trip to Antarctica. Long travel is considered risky for the bird, and placing it with other penguins could put them at risk if it somehow picked up a disease in the warmer waters of New Zealand, according to reports.

The next trips to Antarctica are supply flights to Scott Base in August. In addition, a millionaire businessman has offered to take Happy Feet aboard a Russian icebreaker, but that would not be until February.

I’ll continue to provide updates to this entry.

Some of the best reporting:

Associated Press video, June 21

Associated Press, June 20

The Telegraph, Sydney, June 24, with video

Sydney Morning Herald, June 27

Stuff, June 27, with good videos

About New Zealand penguins: Penguin.net