A wayward emperor penguin that found international fame after washing up lost on a New Zealand beach made a low-key exit from Wellington Monday aboard a research ship bound for his home waters.
The giant bird, dubbed Happy Feet, set sail on the New Zealand fisheries vessel Tangaroa in a custom-made insulated crate with his own veterinary team in attendance and a contingent of media to bid him farewell at the dock.
The relatively quiet departure was in marked contrast to the scenes at Wellington Zoo Sunday, when thousands of well-wishers turned out to farewell him at the animal hospital where he has spent two months recuperating.
Happy Feet was found on a beach just outside Wellington in mid-June -- weak, emaciated and more than 3,000 kilometres (1,900 miles) from the Antarctic colony where he hatched about three-and-a-half years ago.
Only the second emperor penguin ever recorded in New Zealand, he was close to death and needed surgery to remove sand and sticks from his stomach before he could be fattened up on a diet of fish milkshakes.
The bird, which now weighs about 27.5 kilograms (60.5 pounds), attracted international attention during New Zealand sojourn and there are plans for a book and documentary recounting his story.
The juvenile male will be released into the Southern Ocean four days into the Tangaroa's voyage, where the hope is he will rejoin other emperor penguins and eventually make his way back to Antarctica.
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