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Happy Feet's trek a boon for scientists

Published: 3:28PM Tuesday September 06, 2011 Source: NZN

Happy Feet's trek to New Zealand may not have been ideal for his health, but his recovery and subsequent return to the ocean are great news for penguin experts.

The juvenile emperor penguin returned to the Southern Ocean waters on Sunday , two months after being found on Peka Peka Beach on the Kapiti Coast, north of Wellington - well north of his normal environs.

A tracking device installed on Happy Feet showed he first headed east before moving south, having gone about 75km in 24 hours.

Along the way has been some zig-zagging, thought to be times when he has been feeding.

Massey University associate professor John Cockrem says little is known about the travel patterns of juvenile emperor penguins so Happy Feet's discovery and return to the ocean with a tracking device is good news for those studying the birds.

The only study to date was of 12 youngsters fitted with GPS transmitters that headed north and then hundreds of kilometres east before their transmitters ran out.

"We have so little knowledge of where juveniles go, so being able to track this bird is great for us," he told NZN.

He said it was difficult to know when Happy Feet would get to Antarctica as many juvenile penguins didn't make it back until they were five-years-old.

"Given that we don't know how old this bird is, we can't say how long he will take."

Happy Feet's progress can be monitored on

Happy Feet was nursed back to health at Wellington Zoo after being found starving and disoriented on Peka Peka Beach in June.

Rough conditions hampered his journey home aboard the Tangaroa research vessel but he was set free near Campbell Island, where the ocean is 285-metres deep.