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Happy ending for 'Happy Feet'? Penguin to head home

An Emperor penguin that captured global attention when it washed up on a New Zealand beach after straying thousands of miles from home is about to head back to the subantarctic.
/ Source: Reuters

A young Emperor penguin that captured global attention when it washed up on a New Zealand beach after straying thousands of miles from home will head back to the sub-Antarctic in a specially designed cage aboard a research vessel.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 29: \"Happy Feet\" the emperor penguin that washed up on the Kapiti Coast last week, recovers after undergoing a medical examination at Wellington Zoo on June 29, 2011 in Wellington, New Zealand. The young penguin landed on NZ shores last week, after traveling over 3,000 kilometres from the antarctic. The ill penguin was operated on at Wellington Zoo several times this week to remove sand and sticks from it's stomach with hopes it will recover fully. A team of experts is likely to decide today, whether the bird will remain in captivity in New Zealand, or be transported back the the antarctic. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images AsiaPac

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 Aug. 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," he added.

GPS tracker
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, including www.sirtrack.com and www.ourfarsouth.org among others.

The bird became the focus of the media after it turned up on a beach some 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 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 66 pounds. The last sighting of an Emperor penguin in New Zealand took place in 1967.