The Lonely Emperor Penguin of New Zealand

Imagine you're on a warm New Zealand beach, walking your dog, minding your business, when farther along the sand you spot a--no, it's not a... it is a penguin! Christine Wilton was doing exactly that on Peka Peka beach discovered a young Emperor penguin. "It was out-of-this-world to see it," she said, " … like someone just dropped it from the sky."
Conservation experts say the penguin is about 10 months old and stands about 80 centimetres high. Colin Miskelly, a curator at Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, 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.

Miskelly said emperor penguins can spend months at a time in the ocean, coming ashore only to molt or rest. He doesn't know what might have caused this particular one to become disoriented.

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

However, Miskelly said the penguin would need to find its way back south soon if it were to survive. Despite the onset of

the New Zealand winter, the bird was probably hot and thirsty, he said, and it had been eating wet sand. "It doesn't

realize that the sand isn't going to melt inside it," Miskelly said. "They typically eat snow, because it's their only liquid."

However, he said the bird was in no immediate danger from dehydration because Emperor penguins can also drink salt water in the summer.

Peter Simpson, a program manager for New Zealand's Department of Conservation, said officials are asking people to stand back about 10 metres from the creature 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.

Link | Image: Richard Gill, Department of Conservation/Associated Press

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