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'Amazing' visit by Emperor penguin

Published: 3:20PM Tuesday June 21, 2011 Source: ONE News

The rare sighting of an Emperor penguin in the wild for the first time in 40 years has Kapiti Coast residents rather excited.

The Department of Conservation was alerted to this latest arrival by Christine Wilton, who was out walking her dog at Peka Peka Beach on Monday.

"I saw this glistening white thing standing up and I thought I was seeing things," she said.

Rangers went out to investigate and said they saw what looked like a big white ball in the sand.

It was later confirmed that the penguin is a juvenile Emperor penguin standing at about one metre tall.

The last sighting of an Emperor penguin in New Zealand was on Southland's Oreti Beach in 1967.

The penguin is a native of Antarctica, and its visit to the lower North Island has Department of Conservation staff baffled.

"It's amazing to see one of these penguins on the Kapiti Coast," biodiversity spokesperson Peter Simpson said.

"Unusual animals from the Antarctic sometimes visit our shores, but we really don't know why."

Te Papa's penguin expert, Colin Miskelly, said the penguin would have been from among this year's crop of chicks.

"Usually they stay among the pack ice and feed on fish and squid and krill. This one's just kept going north and it's a very long way from its usual range."

Although the unique visitor is drawing crowds to the beach, the Department of Conservation advises people not to disturb the penguin and to keep dogs on leads.

"Dogs are often walked on that beach, if they run a hundred metres ahead of the owner they're not even going to know what's happening and the penguin will be dead," Miskelly said.

It is thought the penguin will eventually head back to more familiar grounds if he gets too lonely.

Emperor penguins are the largest penguins, and adults can reach more than a metre tall and weigh up to 30kg.

They feed on fish, krill, squid and a wide range of marine creatures and hold the diving record at 450 metres deep and 11 minutes underwater.