When I last wrote about Happy Feet (the intrepid emperor penguin who took an extended vacation in New Zealand while recovering from a very long swim and a belly full of sand and twigs), he was being pampered at the Wellington Zoo while fans from around the world watched and waited to see what would become of him. However, as with all vacations, the time came for him to go home. He was recently given the all-clear for travel and last week was made the guest of honor on a research vessel traveling to the Southern Ocean. His first-class treatment, and the tracking device that was attached so that people everywhere can follow along on his journey, were made possible by donations both large and small. Hundreds of people showed up to mark the bitter-sweet occasion of his farewell from the zoo.
Happy Feet’s treatment didn’t come without some politics and criticism. The Department of Conservation has been facing budget cuts recently, and some people felt that spending some of its funds on helping one wayward bird was an irresponsible use of government money. But wildlife advocates argued that there were a number of benefits from all the publicity that Happy Feet attracted – apart from just the feel-good factor.
Over this past weekend, the ship dropped (well, slid, with some help) Happy Feet off near Campbell Island and into the Southern Ocean where he will have to swim to find his friends, whether they be old or new. He’s certainly proven that he’s a strong swimmer, albeit with a poor sense of direction, and the experts were hopeful that he would be able to join a colony of juveniles just like him, who spend a few years out in the ocean on pack ice before finding a mate and returning to mainland Antarctica to breed. If you haven’t already, you can watch films like March of the Penguins and of course Happy Feet to learn more about the amazing lives of emperor penguins.
I must admit to having occasionally watched the live stream of Happy Feet during his stay at the Wellington Zoo – he didn’t do much (ate, slept, lay down on the ice occasionally) but it was strangely fascinating. The tracking device that he has now is not permanent, but at least we can follow him for a short time and keep our fingers crossed that he has a safe journey. The chief executive of Wellington Zoo put it quite nicely: “I think we will all miss him. I think the world will miss him actually, but it’s ready for him to go back and be an emperor penguin.”
In my previous post I mentioned some of the laws that related to Happy Feet’s release. The “legal system,” including the environmental protection regime, of Antarctica is particularly interesting and the Law Library has a range of resources on this topic. You can find plenty of references to the continent in THOMAS as well. As the map below shows, there are various countries involved in the management of the Antarctic region’s resources and the protection of its environment. I wonder where Happy Feet will end up!