Royal penguin 2000km from home

Last updated 16:40 19/02/2013
UNHAPPY FEET: The royal penguin that washed up on the Wairarapa Coast at the weekend.

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A royal penguin found itself almost 2000 kilometres away from home when it washed up on the Wairarapa Coast.

The moulting penguin is suffering kidney failure and severe dehydration and is being cared for at Wellington Zoo.

It was found at Tora in south Wairarapa on Sunday afternoon by Jenny Boyne, who sent a photograph of the bird to Wellington Zoo. ''He was lying on his tummy and looked very sad.''

Ms Boyne drove the bird to the zoo yesterday.

Vet science manager Lisa Argilla said the penguin, believed to be a male, was in a "terrible condition".

"He was in a pretty bad way. He's very dehydrated and pretty sick."

Royal penguins live on the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Islands and are listed as vulnerable.

Dr Argilla said the penguin was probably swimming when it got caught in a current and lost. 

"It realised it has to go to shore because it's moulting but it's really skinny. They need to be in really good body condition to moult."

The moulting process usually took about two weeks, but the birds could not hunt during that time so they lost up to a third of their body weight, she said.

Dr Argilla said it was "touch and go" whether the penguin would survive.

"We just don't know but we're doing everything we can to give him the best chance and get him to return to his island.''

It was being fed a ''fish milkshake'' of pureed sardines mixed with vitamins and oil, and the amount it received would increase as its weight and health improved, she said.

Only a handful of royal penguins had found their way to New Zealand, and none of those had made it to the North Island, Dr Argilla said.

The zoo had also received many blue penguins this season, leading Dr Argilla to believe there was a lack of food in certain areas of the ocean.

''It's a big issue some years that climate change has affected food supply.''

The penguin had not been named, but "needed a royal name", she said.

If the penguin survived it would likely be brought back to full health before being released back into the wild in the South Island, Dr Argilla said.

Contact Sophie Speer
Culture and Capital Day reporter
Twitter: @sophie_speer

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- The Dominion Post


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