Lost Penguin Back In His Natural Habitat

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Happy Feet in New Zealand; image: Department of Conservation/Richard Gill
Image: Department of Conservation NZ/Richard Gill

A woman was walking her dog along a beach in New Zealand in late June when she saw something that looked like a white ball in the sand.

It turned out to be a young Emperor penguin that was very, very lost.

At his age, he should have been close to Antarctica, swimming for fish, squid and krill and playing on the ice floes. But this penguin started swimming north and just kept going.

The penguin attracted a lot of attention in New Zealand. It has been 40 years since an Emperor penguin has been seen there.

Researchers at the country’s Department of Conservation were called in. They decided to watch the penguin closely, but not to disturb it in any way. Many New Zealanders came to Peka Peka Beach to look at the elegant penguin. They were careful to keep their dogs away from it so it wouldn’t be frightened.

The public nicknamed the animal Happy Feet.

Researchers started to notice that Happy Feet didn’t seem well. It turns out he had been eating the sand from the beach, likely thinking it was snow.

The public raised more than 11,000 pounds for an operation to get the sand out of his belly.

The operation was a success, and Happy Feet was taken to a zoo in Wellington, NZ. A group of experts met to decide how best to help Happy Feet return to the wild.

Last Sunday, they put him on a boat called the Tangaroa, in a specially built ice-filled crate and took him out into the Southern Ocean, southeast of New Zealand. There, they released him into the ocean, which is his natural habitat. He took one last look at his human helpers and then dived into the ocean.Happy Feet being released

“Emperor penguins spend their first five years at sea,” said Peter Simpson, of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. “What happens now is up to the penguin.”

Happy Feet was fitted with a satellite transmitter so they can monitor his progress using the Internet. So far, the tracker shows that he swam north-east for a little while before getting his bearings and heading south.

Emperor penguins are one of the largest penguins, weighing up to 30 kg and standing about a metre tall. They can stay underwater for 11 minutes at a time.

Thank you to Peter Simpson, of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation for his help with information about Happy Feet. Home page image: Mark Mitchell/

Related Link
Follow Happy Feet’s journey here. (Internet site where they are tracking Happy Feet for a limited time via his GPS tracking device.)
New Zealand’s museum, TePapa, has been following the story of Happy Feet. Their blog has more details and great photos.

By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
This article is about a lost penguin that needs to make its way home.  Can you think of any other fiction or non-fiction stories that you know that also involve an animal that has gotten lost?  Describe this story to a partner or group and explain how it is similar to the article.

Reading Prompt
Read the article carefully and identify the main idea.  What is the main problem in the article and how will it be solved?  Are there any other problems and solutions in the article that are important?

Identify the main idea and some additional elements of texts (OME, Reading: 1.7).

Analyse texts and explain how various elements in them contribute to meaning (OME, Reading: 1.7).

Analyse a variety of texts, both simple and complex, and explain how the different elements in them contribute to meaning and influence the reader’s reaction (OME, Reading: 1.7).

Grammar Feature: Common nouns and proper nouns
A common noun names any ordinary, non-specific person, animal, place, thing or idea.  Examples of common nouns are: dog, girl, school, city, ball.

A proper noun names a specific, particular person, animal, place, thing or idea.  It always begins with a capital letter.  Examples of proper nouns are: Canada, Sylvia, Mount Everest, Batman.
Read the article and underline all common nouns with green and all proper nouns with orange.