With some encouragement and a "gentle nudge", the famous penguin Happy Feet was released back into the Southern Ocean today.
The emperor penguin that has captured the hearts of New Zealanders and others around the world went back into the wild via a piece of tarpaulin attached to beams on the NIWA research vessel, Tangaroa.
Wellington Zoo, Manager of Veterinary Science, Dr Lisa Argilla said Happy Feet had "a bit of a look" and was a little bit wary at first
However, after a "gentle nudge", he headed off, and away from the boat to the cheers of those he left behind on the boat.
"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," Argilla, who is on the vessel, said.
"It's an indescribable feeling to see a patient finally set free! It's definitely the best part of the job," Argilla said.
He was released at 10.30am, 49 miles due north of Campbell Island, at a depth of 285 metres.
Other options to release the Happy Feet, including using an inflatable boat, could not be used because of the rough seas.
The NIWA team onboard were all out on deck to farewell their special passenger.
Everyone is glad he has now been returned to his natural environment, Argilla said.
Long journey to recovery
Happy Feet spent the last two months at Wellington Zoo after being found exhausted and hungry on Peka Peka beach on the Kapiti Coast.
He had surgery to remove sand and debris he had eaten, thinking it was snow, having swum 1000 kilometres north of his usual habitat in Antarctic waters.
Happy Feet left Wellington Zoo last Monday in a travel crate specially designed to keep him cold and comfortable during the voyage.
Onboard Tangaroa Happy Feet was treated to hoki for his meals and "room service" with fresh ice put in his crate each day.
Voyage leader Dr Richard O'Driscoll said it had been a pleasure to have Happy Feet on board.
"He's been a well-behaved passenger, except when our team have helped to feed him, and he's shown them who the boss is with a peck or two," he said.
The team onboard Tangaroa will now continue their voyage on a month-long fisheries survey on Campbell Island southern blue whiting stocks.
Happy Feet has been fitted with a Sirtrack satellite tracker and a microchip, thanks to the support of investment manager Gareth Morgan.
Fans can follow his progress on the Our Far South website .
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