Questioning Happy Feet, unhappy ending?

You’re out walking through forest or along a beach. You find an injured bird. Maybe you find many, maybe thousands, like residents of the Kapiti Coast did recently when a southerly storm delivered a “prion wreck” to our shores. What should you do?

The prion-wreck last month was a natural event. Prion-wrecks occur every 10-30 years or so, although this was a big one. Most were broad-billed prions and New Zealand is home to more than a million of them. They are also common in Argentina, Australia, Falkland Islands, Peru, South Africa and many of the islands in between.

Emperor penguins, like Happy Feet who recently stole our hearts and “swallowed” our cash, are also remarkably common in the wild with an enormous range across Antarctica. These species are not rare, vulnerable or endangered. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists them as of ‘least concern’.

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Related story: Happy Feet’s priceless publicity

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Emperor penguin visits the Kapiti Coast

Large version of photograph

Press Release: Department of Conservation

Kapiti Coast residents have been treated to a rare visit by an emperor penguin. There is only one other recording of an emperor penguin in New Zealand, at Southland’s Oreti Beach in the 1967.

The Department of Conservation advises that people should not disturb the penguin and ensure that dogs are kept on leads in the area. Penguins can give vicious bites if they feel threatened. If left alone it is expected that the bird will eventually swim back out to sea.

It is not known why these birds that reside in the Antarctic would visit New Zealand shores.

“It’s amazing to see one of these penguins on the Kapiti Coast,” said DOC biodiversity spokesperson Peter Simpson.

“Unusual animals from the Antarctic sometimes visit our shores, but we really don’t know why”,

Department of Conservation staff were first alerted by Kapiti resident Christine Wilton who was walking her dog on Monday afternoon at Peka Peka Beach.

“I saw this glistening white thing standing up and I thought I was seeing things,” Ms Wilton said.

She contacted DOC’s Waikanae office and rangers went to investigate. They saw what looked like a big white ball in the sand. It stood up, looking quite relaxed and in good condition. It was later confirmed that the majestic visitor is a juvenile emperor penguin standing at about 1 metre tall.

Emperor penguins are the largest penguins, adults reaching more than a metre tall and weighing up to 30kg. They feed on fish, krill, squid and a wide range of marine invertebrates and hold the diving record at 450 metres deep and 11 minutes underwater.

If members of the public see this emperor penguin at another beach or to report unusual or injured marine animals contact the DOC HOTline: 0800 362 468.
Visit www.doc.govt.nz for more information on penguins.

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