If you have been following the odyssey of Happy Feet, the Emperor penguin who swam 2,000 miles from Antartica to Peka Peka Beach, north of Wellington in New Zealand, I’m afraid the news about him is not looking too good. After showing up on the beach on June 20 and being tended back to health by the Wellington Zoo, Happy Feet was released into the southern ocean some weeks ago. He was outfitted with a Sirtrack tracking device and his legions of fans (thanks to a webcam set up by the zoo) could follow his progress via the Wellington Zoo website, the Sirtrack website and the Our Far South website.
But alas: Happy Feet’s tracker has gone silent, the Guardian reports. While it’s possible that the tracker has fallen off — it was going to fall off eventually, when the bird molted — it is also possible that he has been eaten by a shark, seal or killer whale:
Kevin Lay, of Sirtrack, the specialist firm that fitted the tracker, said no signal had been received since Friday, when the penguin was about halfway home. He said it was possible Happy Feet had been eaten, but he remained hopeful.
“There are some species that will forage on emperor penguins. It’s not likely that it has happened to Happy Feet because of the area he was in.”
Lay said the tracker was meant to transmit a signal every time it broke the surface of the water, and had been working perfectly.
It is very likely that Happy Feet’s fate will never be known, as Colin Miskelly, a wildlife expert who advised about the penguin’s treatment, says:
“It is unlikely that we will ever know what caused the transmissions to cease, but it is time to harden up to the reality that the penguin has returned to the anonymity from which he emerged,” he told AFP.
There are plans for a book and documentary of Happy Feet’s story, but the ending may remain a mystery.
The tracker firm posted what may well be the last news of Happy Feet: “Finally, as we expect many people are, the team at Sirtrack are disappointed that we are unable to track Happy Feet’s progress any further. We have enjoyed being part of this project and hope that Happy Feet is making his way home.”
Questions may arise about the zoo’s decision to release Happy Feet back to the wild. But he was — is — indeed a wild animal and the zoo recognized that he could not live there permanently. It’s a cliché, but nature is not kind in the way we might wish her to be.
So here’s hoping that a sensor-free Happy Feet is somewhere out in the ocean swimming away. What is for sure is that he’s left a big impression on quite a lot of people and, wherever he may, he won’t be forgotten.
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