Happy Feet the penguin's tracker falls silent

Happy Feet, the emperor penguin who became an international celebrity after losing his way and ending up in New Zealand, is missing presumed eaten after being released into the ocean this month, scientists said.

Concerns were raised over Happy Feet's fate when the tracker device attached to his body stopped sending signals on his trip home to Antarctica.

Kevin Lay, of Sirtrack, the specialist firm that fitted the tracker, said no signal had been received since Friday, September 9th, when the penguin was about halfway home. He said it was possible Happy Feet had been eaten, but he remained hopeful.

"There are some species that will forage on emperor penguins. It's not likely that it has happened to Happy Feet because of the area he was in."

Lay said the tracker was meant to transmit a signal every time it broke the surface of the water, and had been working perfectly. It was intended to remain attached for months and be shed in the new year moult, but may have fallen off. (Left: tracking of Happy Feet, credit Sirtrack)

Sharks, seals and killer whales are among the creatures known to eat penguins.

The three-and-a-half-year-old Happy Feet was found emaciated and exhausted on Peka Peka beach north of Wellington NZ in mid-June (right, credit:AP), only the second emperor ever recorded in New Zealand. The penguin was more than 3000km from its Antarctic birthplace

He was nursed back to health at Wellington zoo, undergoing surgery to remove several kilos of sand he had swallowed having apparently mistaken it for snow. The zoo's visitor numbers doubled as people tried to catch one of his rare public appearances.

Once ready to release back into the wild Happy Feet was placed in his own custom built crate on the research ship Tangoroa, which was already scheduled for a trip to Antarctica waters. Once the boat entered the Antarctica waters, crew members from the boat carried the penguin inside his crate to the stern of the ship for his final send-off about 50 nautical miles (90 kilometers) north of remote Campbell Island. The crew had already cut the engines and put in place a canvas slide that they soaked with water from a hose. But when they opened the door of the crate, the penguin showed no interest in leaving.

Happy Feet needed a little push before speeding backward on his stomach bottom first down a makeshift slide. He resurfaced about 6 feet (2 meters) from the boat, took a look up at the people aboard, and then disappeared beneath the surface.

Colin Miskelly, a wildlife expert who advised on the penguin's treatment, said the truth about his fate would probably never be known. "It is unlikely that we will ever know what caused the transmissions to cease, but it is time to harden up to the reality that the penguin has returned to the anonymity from which he emerged," he stated.

There are plans for a book and documentary of Happy Feet's story, but the ending may remain a mystery.
Happy Feet Released back into Southern Ocean

The tracker firm posted what may well be the last news of Happy Feet: "Finally, as we expect many people are, the team at Sirtrack are disappointed that we are unable to track Happy Feet's progress any further. We have enjoyed being part of this project and hope that Happy Feet is making his way home."

The Guardian,"Happy Feet the penguin's tracker falls silent", by Maev Kennedy, accessed September 12, 2011
The Guardian, "Happy Feet the penguin released into Southern Ocean after New Zealand trip", accessed September 12, 2011


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