Emperor Penguin Gets Lost, Winds Up in New Zealand

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Richard Gill / New Zealand Department of Conservation / AP

An Emperor penguin walks along Peka Peka Beach in New Zealand after it got lost while hunting for food.

Navigating between Antarctica and New Zealand seems obvious from the air. But what about from underwater? Or as a penguin? One unfortunate Emperor penguin doesn’t know the difference either, and turned up on the New Zealand shore near Wellington.

The latest tourist attraction on Peka Peka Beach was likely out looking for some squid or krill—that always seems to be where the trouble starts—when the young penguin took a wrong turn for no obvious reason and then journeyed 2,000 miles to New Zealand. Of course, some believe the penguin knew what he was doing. Come on, vacation in New Zealand? Who isn’t all for that?

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Either way, someone walking her dog spotted the black-and-white bird, the first wild Emperor penguin sighting since 1967. Scientists estimate the bird at about 10 months old and 32 inches tall, so he was likely born during the last Antarctic winter. Emperor Penguins can last months underwater, only coming up for some rest, which may be what happened to this young bird.

All accounts have the penguin looking well-fed and with plenty of body fat, but at only about one-third of the weight he will need to survive an Antarctic winter—if he makes it back—and likely hot and thirsty. He also needs to figure out his surroundings soon, since eating wet sand—he thinks it is snow—doesn’t hydrate him as well as snow.

Officials plan to let nature takes its course, and since Emperor penguins can last weeks between feedings, the small penguin may remain a tourist attraction until he gets hungry and returns to the water. And once he does take another swim, he may trek it back another 2,000 miles and chalk up his trip to a summer vacation. At least, that’s what everyone hopes.

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