Happy Feet frolics in Caroline Bay
Excitement at Caroline Bay palpableEMMA BAILEY
Antarctic emperor penguin Happy Feet has been located at Caroline Bay, with his satellite transmitter coming back to life early on Saturday after he had been lost at sea for more than a year.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) has confirmed the penguin, which rose to fame in 2011, is back on the grid, with Wellington Zoo making an urgent phone call to DOC after its satellite transmitter tracked it to Caroline Bay.
DOC ranger Honor Perch said Happy Feet was located with the little blue penguins nesting at Caroline Bay.
The emperor penguin was found on a Kapiti Coast beach in June 2011. He was re-released into the wild that September but his locator beacon failed a week later.
Word has quickly spread of Happy Feet's nesting site on the south side of Caroline Bay, forcing it to be closed off from the public. Police were guarding the cordon overnight.
DOC is under fire for failing to act earlier after it received a call from a member of the public last week.
"We did have a call from a gentleman known to us who claimed he had seen an emperor penguin at Caroline Bay," Ms Perch said.
"The man does call us on a regular basis. Last month he claimed he had seen a moa at Peel Forest but on reflection we should have followed up his call."
Happy Feet's cavorting on the rocks with the little blue penguins was thought to have triggered the transmitter. Emperor penguins are the tallest of all penguin species, reaching up to 122 centimetres in height, while little blue penguins are the smallest, growing up to 33 cm.
The presence of the little blues probably attracted Happy Feet to Caroline Bay, Ms Perch said.
"The emperor penguin is a long way from its natural home of Antarctica and it has probably been a while since he has had any company. Happy Feet will probably be reluctant to leave his new family any time soon."
Wellington Zoo staff were ecstatic the penguin had come back, veterinarian Sandy Bird said.
"We all had our own horrible versions of what may have happened to him.
"I worried Happy Feet had become a Happy Meal.
"If only there was an iceberg floating past Dunedin again, we could have helicoptered Happy Feet out to it like they did with Shrek the sheep."
Timaru District Mayor Janie Annear said the council were looking into converting the Century Pool site to an enclosure for Happy Feet.
"If that happens the little blue penguins will also be moved with it.
"It could become a major tourist attraction to rival Oamaru's blue penguin colony. Imagine the fun they would have playing on the old hydroslide."
Despite today being a public holiday an urgent council meeting would be held at noon, she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News