Oh no, we have lost track of Happy Feet!
For those of you who have been following the odyssey of Happy Feet, the news about him is not looking too good.
After showing up on Peka Peka Beach, north of Wellington on the North Island’s western coast, in New Zealand on June 20 and being nursed back to health by the Wellington Zoo, Happy Feet was released almost two weeks ago into the Southern Ocean well short of his habitat.
An international treaty prevents authorities from returning the penguin directly to Antarctica, so he was released in an area where other juvenile emperor penguins like himself are at play at this time of the year.
Questions may arise about the zoo’s decision to release Happy Feet back to the wild. A video of his release into the ocean showed that he was reluctant to leave the ship and had to be pushed. I know the people on the ship were doing their job but it is a painful scene to see the reluctant penguin being “pushed” into the sea.
Happy Feet then had a GPS transmitter attached to him so his progress back into Antarctic waters could be tracked. The adolescent bird’s tracking device stopped transmitting last Friday, after he had swum 115km south of his release point towards his Antarctic home, about half way to his destination in the Southern Ocean.
In an early statement, Sirtrack, the company that attached the transmitter, said that the lack of signal ‘leads to the conclusion that either the satellite transmitter has detached or an unknown event has prevented Happy Feet from resurfacing’.
Mr Kevin Lay, speaking for the company, said that the transmitter appeared to be in good working order up to the time it stopped sending data and the most likely explanation for the silence is that it had fallen off though this is uncommon.
The transmitter, he said, had been only glued on so that it would fall off in time. The tracker was meant to transmit a signal every time it broke the surface of the water, and had been working perfectly.
‘We hoped it would stay on for five or six months, but it appears in this case it’s only stayed on for two weeks.’
Mr Lay added that it was possible the penguin had been eaten, but he was doubtful. Sharks, seals and killer whales are among the creatures known to eat penguins.
‘There are some species that will forage on emperor penguins but it’s not likely that it has happened to Happy Feet because of the area he was in,’ he said.
‘We firmly believe that the transmitter has become detached.’
The tracker firm posted what may well be the last news of Happy Feet: “Finally, as we expect many people are, the team at Sirtrack are disappointed that we are unable to track Happy Feet’s progress any further. We have enjoyed being part of this project and hope that Happy Feet is making his way home.”
After no signals were recorded over the weekend, tracking firm Sirtrack posted a sad farewell to their little friend on Monday.
“A signal from the satellite transmitter that was attached to Happy Feet has not been received since Friday 9 September 2011, NZ time,” read the message on the company’s website, Sirtrack.com.
“This leads to the conclusion that either the satellite transmitter has detached or an unknown event has prevented Happy Feet from resurfacing.
“As we expect many people are, the team at Sirtrack are disappointed that we are unable to track Happy Feet’s progress any further. We have enjoyed being part of this project and hope that Happy Feet is making his way home.”
While this may be the last we hear of the real-life Happy Feet, there are plans for a book and a documentary movie about his travels.
I am hoping that a sensor-free Happy Feet is somewhere out in the ocean swimming on his way home. I have been keeping track of Happy Feet’s journey home at this site www.nzemperor.com and was greatly dismayed when news about losing transmission signals from Happy Feet broke. He has captured the hearts of millions worldwide and, wherever he may, he won’t be forgotten. We will never know what really happened to him but we can only pray for a happy Disney ending to his odyssey.