The world's most beloved wayward penguin, Happy Feet, was released today back into the Southern Ocean -- two months after waddling ashore in New Zealand, hundreds of miles from home. It was a bittersweet send-off for the bird's tireless rescuers, though everyone was happy to do their part in helping the Emperor penguin find his way back to the chilly Antarctic climes. But for those not ready to say goodbye just yet to Happy Feet, a web site devoted to tracking the bird's journey home is offering a peek at his progress via GPS -- and judging from his zig-zagging course thus far, it's starting to make sense how he wound up getting so off track in the first place.Following weeks of captivity at New Zealand's Wellington Zoo, where Happy Feet was being treated after swallowing sand, his caregivers readied the young penguin for his release last week -- attaching a tracking device in the process. After a few days traveling out at sea on a research vessel, Happy Feet was finally released back into the Southern Ocean, with a nudge.
Sea conditions were too rough to release Happy Feet by hand, so he was released down a tarpaulin 'hydro-slide' from the boat's ramp.
Wellington Zoo vet Lisa Argilla, who has been looking after the penguin onboard, said he needed some "gentle encouragement" to leave his crate but the release had gone well.
"He slid down his specially designed penguin slide backwards but once he hit the water he spared no time in diving off away from the boat and all those 'aliens' who have been looking after him for so long."
Rescuers, following his progress via GPS, had been hoping Happy Feet would carry on in a southerly direction, back to Antartica and a normal penguin life. In the hours after sliding off the deck and back into the sea, however, the young penguin seems to be having a bit of trouble getting his bearings right. According to a neat map which tracks the bird's progress, Happy Feet started heading north, as if back to New Zealand -- but more recently he seems to be venturing south, towards home.
Figuring out the right direction towards Antarctica is only one of the challenges Happy Feet must overcome. After months of the pampered life in New Zealand, some fear that the penguin may have weakened it ability to sense and avoid predators, like sharks, on his return swim.
Like many Happy Feet fans, we'll be keeping an eye on the penguin's progress -- and of course, wishing him the best of luck.