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Contact lost with released penguin

A satellite transmitter glued to “Happy Feet’’ went silent Friday. A satellite transmitter glued to “Happy Feet’’ went silent Friday.
Associated Press / September 14, 2011

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand - The penguin known as “Happy Feet’’ has vanished in the ocean on his way home from New Zealand, eluding his trackers just days after his release and leaving behind a mystery that may never be solved.

After seizing global celebrity by going off-course and landing on a New Zealand beach far from its Antarctic abode, the emperor penguin has simply disappeared from the grid.

Happy Feet’s satellite transmitter went silent Friday, five days after specialists released the bird into the Southern Ocean about a quarter of the way down to Antarctica.

Initial dispatches from the device showed that Happy Feet swam in a meandering route, ending up about 75 miles southeast of where he began by the time the last transmission came across Friday morning.

At this point, the transmitter may have simply fallen off, specialists said. It was attached to the bird’s feathers with a strong adhesive and was supposed to fall off anyway early next year when he molted.

“Who knows? He’s probably swimming along quite happily without a transmitter on his back,’’ said Peter Simpson, a program manager at New Zealand’s department of conservation.

Or, he may have died of natural causes. Or, something more sinister: Happy Feet could have been eaten by an orca or a leopard seal.

Scientist probably will never know, but there’s a tiny chance they could get more clues one day because of another, small device implanted under the bird’s skin.

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