August 17, 2011 / 4:01 AM / 9 years ago

"Lost" penguin heading home in style on NZ research ship

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - A young Emperor penguin that captured global attention when it washed up on a New Zealand beach after straying thousands of kilometers from home will be head back to the subantarctic aboard a research vessel and in a specially designed cage.

The Wellington Zoo, where the bird — nicknamed “Happy Feet” by locals — has been living since June, said on Wednesday the penguin would be on the research vessel Tangaroa when it leaves on August 29 for a fisheries survey.

The penguin will be released from the ship about four days out at sea, en route to its final destination.

“The NIWA team are looking forward to having this extra special guest onboard the vessel with us for the journey,” Rob Murdoch of NIWA, the research organization that operates the vessel, said in a statement issued by the zoo.

“Happy Feet has captured the hearts of New Zealanders and people across the world, and we’re pleased to be able to help safely return him to the Southern Ocean.”

A Wellington Zoo veterinarian will accompany the penguin, which will be housed in a crate designed by Wellington Zoo staff to keep it cool and comfortable during the voyage.

It will be fitted with a GPS tracker that will allow fans to monitor its progress on several websites, and

The bird became the focus of the media after it turned up on a beach some 4,000 km (2,500 miles) from its home, only the second Emperor penguin known to have shown up in New Zealand.

It underwent endoscopic surgery in June to remove three kgs (6.6 pounds) of sand from its stomach and subsequently recuperated at the zoo, where a “penguin cam” allowed fans to observe its every move over the Internet.

Penguins normally eat snow to stay hydrated but veterinarians believe Happy Feet, named after the main character in a popular animated film, became confused and ate sand instead.

Emperor penguins are the largest penguin species and can weigh up to 30 kg (66 pounds). The last sighting of an Emperor penguin in New Zealand took place in 1967.

Reporting by Elaine Lies, editing by Miral Fahmy

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