It’s the real-life version of “Homeward Bound,” but instead of dogs and cats, this story involves a young penguin that somehow ended up 1,800 miles from home.
Pingu, an Adélie penguin, was recently spotted on the shores of New Zealand. Harry Singh, of Birdlings Flat, which is south of Christchurch, was walking along when he saw the little penguin toddling about on the beach.
Singh watched the little penguin for almost four hours, noting how the hungry bird seemed confused and lost, eating stones along the beach as it wandered around.
Luckily, thanks to Singh’s observation and Facebook video, news of the displaced penguin spread quickly through the small coastal town, and New Zealand’s Kaikoura Wildlife Hospital was able to swoop into action and come to the young bird’s rescue.
Unfortunately, Pingu — as he was named by the locals, presumably after the 1980s British-Swiss claymation series about a young penguin — was in bad shape when the medical staff got to him. The penguin was quite dehydrated and underweight, and way too exhausted to be released back into the wild.
The wildlife team quickly began to give him fluids and fish smoothies, and within just 24 hours, the little guy was back on his feet. Once he got a clean bill of health, the Department of Conservation released him back into the wild.
But he still has a long way to travel to get back home.
Thomas Stracke, Christchurch Penguin Rehabilitation worker, told The Guardian that he wished they could have flown Pingu straight back to Antartica. But he joked that they “had a meeting with the other big penguin guns and they said no.”
In all seriousness, we presume that the wildlife experts simply didn’t want to interfere with Pingu’s natural behavior and wanted to allow him to choose his own way home. However, they did drop him near a bay on the bank’s peninsula, which will hopefully help to steer Pingu in the right direction. Scientists have documented Adélie penguins traveling long distances, and they’re excellent swimmers.
But why did Pingu end up in New Zealand in the first place? It could be related to global warming. Warm waters mean less fish for animals living in arctic zones, so they have to travel farther and farther from home to find food.
“All species of penguin are like marine sentinels … when they’re doing badly, they’re giving us an early signal — canaries in coal mines — an early signal that things are not good,” Otago University zoology professor Philip Seddon told The Guardian. “I think if we started getting annual arrivals of Adélie penguins, we’d go actually, something’s changed in the ocean that we need to understand.”
At least for now, Pingu is filled up with fish smoothies and hopefully on his way back home to Antartica where he belongs.