Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Richlister's mission for Happy Feet

Happy Feet. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Happy Feet. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Remember Happy Feet? Gareth Morgan does, and he's on a mission to find where he went.

The economist and writer will join 12 of the country's top scientists on a 30-day voyage to Antarctica early next year to raise awareness of the importance of the region.

And along the way they will be trying to find the emperor penguin who made headlines around the world when he turned up at a Wellington beach in June.

Happy Feet was released into the Southern Ocean on September 4, and Dr Morgan paid for a transmitter to track his progress.

When the signal died many thought the penguin went with it. However, the wealthy philanthropist - who gave away his $47 million share of the proceeds when his son Sam sold Trade Me - thinks Happy Feet may have travelled out of range.

"He's got a radio-chip embedded in him so in theory, we could come across a colony of penguins and go out with a radio transmitter trying to find him," he said.

"It might be, 'Ooh, this one is beeping - it must be Happy Feet'.

"If we see them ... I'll be out there with my radio transmitter trying to find him."

Dr Morgan will be heading to Antarctica in February, as part of a project called Our Far South, and insists the quest for Happy Feet is an "add-on" to the trip's main purpose.

The project will come 100 years since the South Pole was reached in January 1912.

Dr Morgan said some of the key issues they will be looking at include climate change, territorial aspirations, protecting biodiversity, over-fishing, mineral exploration and even tourism opportunities.

"I don't know if New Zealanders are really aware of this stuff," he said.

"The older generation will understand and know because of explorers and explorations in the past. But the younger generation just don't know anything about the region."

The team will produce and publish four books and two films about their expedition, mid-year, which will be available around the country.

Dr Morgan said if they did happen to track down the penguin, it would be a great experience for those scientists travelling and a good thing for research.

"Last time I was down there we took some motorbikes and some penguins came right up and had a walk around the motorbikes.

"Penguins really are very inquisitive, so we might get close to some again this time around."

- NZ Herald

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