By Frances Cook and Lloyd Burr
Happy Feet has begun his journey back to Antarctica, boarding a research ship accompanied by scientists and media.
NIWA let the emperor penguin hitch a lift on their largest research vessel, the Tangaroa, and plan to release him when they are four days out to sea and within the natural habitat range for emperor penguins.
For the last ten weeks Happy Feet has lead a life of leisure, but today’s schedule was much busier as Zoo and NIWA staff made final preparations for him to head home.
The refugee penguin had his last meal on New Zealand soil at 9:30am but didn’t have his daily ice replenishment.
He spent all morning in his enclosure, giving his worldwide fan base a last chance to watch him on the 3 News live stream. Hundreds of people turned up in person at Wellington Zoo yesterday, to say goodbye and wish Happy Feet a safe journey.
Media accompanying Happy Feet for his first night on NIWA’s research vessel Tangaroa had a safety briefing about their voyage at midday.
After this meeting, just after 2pm, Happy Feet waddled into his new enclosure, bid a last farewell to the zoo, and was taken to Burnham Wharf on Shelly Bay Road in Miramar to board the ship.
Media are now boarding the ship for a small press conference
At 5pm, final preparations will be made for the ship’s departure.
At 6pm, the ship is scheduled to depart.
Wellington Zoo's manager of veterinary science Dr Lisa Argilla is accompanying Happy Feet on his journey home.
She is assisted by two NIWA staff who have been trained to feed and care for the penguin over the last week.
While the media are not allowed to join Happy Feet for his entire journey home, 3 News will spend one night on the ship with him and he has been fitted with a GPS tracker so fans can still follow his progress.