It's healthy, well-fed and far from home. And it has quickly become the most popular attraction on a New Zealand beach. If only it could talk.
A young penguin apparently took a wrong turn while swimming near Antarctica and made a 2,000-mile journey to New Zealand, the first time in 44 years that one of the creatures has been sighted in the wild of the country.
Christine Wilton was walking her dog Monday when she discovered the black-and-white bird. She said the scene on Peka Peka Beach on North Island's western coast reminded her of the 2006 movie Happy Feet, in which a young penguin finds himself stranded far from home. "It was out-of-this-world to see it. Like someone just dropped it from the sky."
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.
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. Miskelly did not know what might have caused this particular one to become disoriented. The penguin probably came ashore for a rest, he said.
Peter Simpson, a program manager for New Zealand's Department of Conservation, said officials are asking onlookers to stand back about 30 feet from the bird and to avoid letting dogs near it. Other than that, he said, officials plan to let nature take its course. Simpson said the bird could live several weeks before needing another meal.