WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A young Emperor penguin took a rare wrong turn from the Antarctic and ended up stranded on a New Zealand beach — the first time in 44 years the aquatic bird has been sighted in the wild in the South Pacific country.
Local resident Christine Wilton was taking her miniature Schnauzer dog Millie for a walk on Peka Peka Beach on the North Island's western coast when she discovered the bird Monday evening.
"It was out-of-this-world to see it ... like someone just dropped it from the sky," Wilton said.
"It looked like 'Happy Feet' — it was totally in the wrong place," Wilton said, referring to the 2006 animated musical featuring a young penguin who finds himself far from home.
Conservation experts say the penguin is about 10 months old and stands about 32 inches 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.
Emperor penguins are the tallest and largest species of penguin and can grow up to 4 feet high and weigh more than 75 pounds.
Their amazing journey to breeding grounds deep in the Antarctic was chronicled in the 2005 documentary "March of the Penguins," which highlighted their ability to survive the brutal winter.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