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Wrong turn puts penguin 2,000 miles from home

An Emperor penguin is seen on Peka Peka Beach of the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand. (Associated Press)
An Emperor penguin is seen on Peka Peka Beach of the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand. (Associated Press)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – He’s healthy, well-fed and far from home. And he’s quickly become the most popular attraction on a New Zealand beach. If only he could talk.

A young penguin apparently took a wrong turn while swimming near Antarctica and endured a 2,000-mile journey to New Zealand, the first time in 44 years that one of the creatures has been sighted here in the wild.

Christine Wilton was walking her dog Monday when she discovered the black-and-white bird.

“It was out-of-this-world to see it,” she said. “Like someone just dropped it from the sky.”

Wilton said the scene on Peka Peka Beach reminded her of the 2006 movie “Happy Feet,” in which a young penguin finds himself stranded far from home.

The bird “was totally in the wrong place,” she said.

Estimated to be about 10 months old and 32 inches tall, the Emperor penguin was probably born during the last Antarctic winter and may have been searching for squid and krill when it got lost, experts said.

Emperors are the tallest and largest species of penguin. They can grow up to 4 feet tall and weigh more than 75 pounds.

Their amazing journey to breeding grounds deep in the Antarctic was chronicled in the 2005 documentary “March of the Penguins,” which highlighted their ability to survive – and breed – despite the region’s brutal winter.

Emperor penguins can spend months at a time in the ocean, coming ashore only to molt or rest, said Colin Miskelly, a curator at Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. He did not know what might have caused this particular one to become disoriented.

The penguin appeared healthy and well-fed, with plenty of body fat. He probably came ashore for a rest, Miskelly said.

However, he added, the penguin needs to find its way back south soon if it is to survive. Despite the onset of the New Zealand winter, the bird is probably hot and thirsty, and it had been eating wet sand.


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