Fears Arise That Happy Feet May Have Been Eaten

Screenshot via OurFarSouth.org

Just over seven days after biologists from New Zealand's Wellington Zoo released their famous surprise guest, a wayward emperor penguin named Happy Feet, back into the waters of the Southern Ocean to make his way home, experts are fearing the worst. For the better part of a week, the world has been able to track his progress towards Antarctica via a GPS device attached to his leg -- but in recent days it appears that something may have gone terribly wrong, raising concerns that the world's most beloved penguin was eaten.Not long following his rather unenthused departure into the ocean from a research vessel a few hundred miles off the coast of New Zealand, it seemed that Happy Feet had difficulty getting his bearing right. Instead of heading strongly south towards home, the young penguin originally ventured north, then zig-sagged south-east without really gaining much distance day by day. Some questioned the location of his release, thousands of miles from his presumed colony in Antarctica, in light of his evidently poor navigation skills.

After all, Happy Feet was one of just a few penguin ever spotted in New Zealand having apparently ended up epically off course.

For months, veterinarians nursed the ailing penguin back to health and arranged his hopeful departure back to his homeland in Antarctica -- but not before capturing the imagination of an international audience that showered the unlikely survivor with well-wishes. As a way of gaining assurance that Happy Feet had rejoined his native locale, biologists fitted him with a GPS device which would transmit his location each time he surfaced from the water after his release. Things appeared to be going somewhat well for him, that is, until last Friday when transmissions ceased to come in.

From New Zealand's Stuff.co.nz:

Now, Sirtrack, the satellite tracking company behind Happy Feet's transmitter, believed he could have been eaten by a bigger animal.

Kevin Lay, a wildlife telemetry consultant at Sirtrack said it was the possibility that no-one wanted to think about, but Happy Feet could have become another creature's meal.

"That's what makes the world go round."

He said it was also possible the transmitter had fallen off, as this was not uncommon when using transmitters to track penguins.

Of course, there may be no way of knowing for certain what has really happened to Happy Feet, whether he's swimming back home more swiftly sans GPS device, or if his life ended in the jaws of some predator. But while it may be comforting to those of us who followed Happy Feet's story of survival to imagine the former, considering the circumstances, the latter always seemed an all too likely outcome.

Still, OurFarSouth.org, the Web site that's been tracking Happy Feet's progress, is holding out hope for the penguin's reemergence:

Hopefully we'll be pleasantly surprised. But if we don't get further readings then we'll have to hope for the best and be thankful that we've had such a wonderful cause to raise peoples' awareness of the Far South.

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More on Happy Feet
Young Emperor Penguin Makes a Rare Wrong Turn
Penguin Heads Home After Making a Rare Wrong Turn
Track Happy Feet's Progress as He Swims Back Home

Tags: Animals | Birds | New Zealand | Oceans