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Young emperor penguin turns up on a New Zealand beach

Tuesday, June 21st 2011 - 21:28 UTC
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There are an estimated two dozen Emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica There are an estimated two dozen Emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica

A young emperor penguin, normally found in the Antarctic, has turned up on a New Zealand beach. It is a rare event, the first confirmed sighting of an Emperor penguin in New Zealand in 44 years.

“I saw this glistening white thing standing up and I thought I was seeing things,” said Christine Wilton, who found it while walking her dog.

The NZ Department of Conservation is baffled by how it arrived, saying it may have taken a wrong turn. “It's amazing to see one of these penguins on the Kapiti coast,” says the department's Peter Simpson.

The visitor has attracted crowds of onlookers, who are being advised not to disturb the penguin and keep their dogs on leads sine it can inflict painful bites if threatened.

Conservation experts say the bird is a juvenile, about 10 months old and 80cm tall. Emperor penguins are the tallest and largest of all penguin species, growing up to 122cm high and weighing more than 34kg.

Colin Miskelly, a penguin expert at Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum, said the bird was likely born during the last Antarctic winter.

It may have been searching for squid and krill when it took a wrong turn and arrived on New Zealand's North Island.

“Usually they stay among the pack ice,” said Mr Miskelly. ”This one just kept going north and it's a very long way from its usual range”.

There are two dozens colonies of the penguins in Antarctica ranging from less than 200 pairs to more than 50.000. The emperor penguin is a species discovered during Captain James Cook's 19th century voyage.

They are the toughest of all the species, the only ones able to reproduce during the Antarctic winter, when temperatures can drop to minus 50c.

Miskelly said the plucky bird would have to find its way back south soon if it was going to survive. He said: 'It is probably hot and thirsty and has been eating wet sand.

'It doesn't realize that the sand isn't going to melt inside it because they typically eat snow - their only liquid.'

Vagrant emperor penguins have been reported as far apart as the South Shetland Islands, Tierra del Fuego, the Falklands Islands, South Sandwich Islands, Kerguelen Island, Heard Island and New Zealand.

Categories: Environment, International.

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