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Haere Ra Happy Feet – You’re homeward bound

29 August 2011

Haere Ra Happy Feet – You’re homeward bound

Happy Feet, the emperor penguin that’s captured the hearts of New Zealanders and others around the world, is finally homeward bound, onboard NIWA’s largest research vessel, Tangaroa.

Happy Feet left Wellington Zoo – his home for the last two months since being found exhausted and hungry on Peka Peka beach on the Kapiti Coast – in a travel crate specially designed to keep him cold and comfortable during the voyage. He was then driven to Burnham Wharf in Wellington and carefully loaded on to NIWA’s research vessel, Tangaroa.

Tangaroa, New Zealand’s most sophisticated research vessel, is heading south on a month-long fisheries survey on Campbell Island southern blue whiting. On the way Happy Feet will be released from the vessel, approximately four days out to sea, at about 51 degrees south – within the penguin’s natural habitat.

At a media conference onboard Tangaroa before its departure Dr Lisa Argilla, Manager of Veterinary Science at Wellington Zoo told media that the transfer had gone very well. She said Happy Feet was in good spirits and ready for his journey home.

“Happy Feet is in good shape and the team at Wellington Zoo are very excited that the time has come for him to be released back into the wild, where he belongs.”

“It has been an amazing journey caring for him over the past nine weeks and we have been overwhelmed by the amazing level of interest and support from around New Zealand and the world.”

Dr Argilla is accompanying Happy Feet home on Tangaroa. She will be assisted by two NIWA science staff, who have been specially trained to feed and care for the penguin by Wellington Zoo staff.

Final decisions on how Happy Feet will be released have not yet been made. Options include releasing him down a purpose-made slide off the stern ramp of the vessel or using an inflatable boat. It will depend partly on the weather conditions and how Happy Feet responds.

NIWA Chief Executive, John Morgan, said NIWA was pleased to be able to assist Wellington Zoo and the Department of Conservation return Happy Feet to the Southern Ocean.

“Our team was already scheduled to head south for a month-long survey of Campbell Island southern blue whiting, so we’re happy to have another guest onboard for the trip. I’m not sure we’ve had anyone as internationally famous as Happy Feet onboard before, but I’m sure he’ll be well looked after.”

“It shows you just how passionate New Zealand is about wildlife and our natural environment, and what a great group of organisations can do when we work together,” Mr Morgan said.

Happy Feet has been fitted with a Sirtrack satellite tracker and a microchip, thanks to the generous support of Gareth Morgan. Fans will be able to follow his progress on the Wellington Zoo website (www.wellingtonzoo.com) Sirtrack website (www.sirtrack.com) and the Our Far South website (www.ourfarsouth.org).

Tangaroa is due to leave Burnham Wharf in Wellington at 6 pm.

For daily updates from Tangaroa on Happy Feet’s progress visit www.niwa.co.nz or www.wellingtonzoo.com

Background

RV Tangaroa is heading south for a month-long Ministry of Fisheries-funded acoustic survey of Campbell Island southern blue whiting stocks. This is the tenth acoustic survey NIWA has done of blue whiting stocks. The fishery is in a very healthy state. Current stocks are estimated to be at or above fishery target levels, and predicted to grow stronger in coming years.

NIWA’s research vessel Tangaroa is New Zealand’s only deepwater, ice-strengthened research vessel. Tangaroa has recently undergone a $25 million upgrade to enhance its ocean science and oil and gas exploration capabilities and extend its useable life. The upgrade included the installation of a dynamic positioning system. The vessel is well-equipped for a wide range of environmental survey and ocean science work, including fisheries surveys. Tangaroa works throughout the South Pacific, Southern Ocean, and Antarctica. For more information go to: http://www.niwa.co.nz/our-science/vessels/tangaroa

ENDS

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