That Guy

That Guy is a Herald on Sunday columnist

That guy: Pampered penguin doomed to quick ocean death

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Easy target: Happy Feet on his way home.
Photo / Getty Images
Easy target: Happy Feet on his way home. Photo / Getty Images

As a columnist it is always tough when you have to be the bearer of particularly sad news, but as a respected member of the press it is my responsibility to tell it like it is.

Sources have told me that earlier this week the loveable penguin Happy Feet was attacked by a 6.7m great white shark seconds after being released by his caregivers into the ocean.

My source, who is sometimes reliable and doesn't wish to be named, claims he was on board the Antarctic-bound vessel when the well-fed celebrity penguin was released back into his real world.

By all accounts, moments after an emotional ceremony and a drawn-out photo session, an emotionally and physically exhausted Happy Feet was lowered into the water. Seconds later it was all over.

The great white shark, which is now affectionately known as Big Jack, came at Happy Feet from below like a dark torpedo and swallowed him whole.

There was stunned confusion on the boat. This was a penguin we had come to know and love, a penguin we would happily invite into our homes, (so long as we'd put paper down). Happy Feet was big news and, though not quite a kiwi, he was a real New Zealander who had lessons for us all. For a start, he has shown us that it isn't wise to eat stones and sticks.

We watched as experts cleared them from his gullet in a bid to make him well again. We wished we could do the same for the other 17.9 million penguins struggling with the affliction in Antarctica, but deep down most of us knew we probably couldn't.

My source told me that some on board the vessel refused to believe that Happy Feet, who was wearing a new high-tech transmitter, was gone.

There was a glimmer of hope as his transmitter was still transmitting after the attack but, you guessed it, the signal was coming from the belly of the shark. This was evidenced by the fact that the signal was just 1m away from the shark's signal. (Big Jack had earlier been rescued by humans with much less fanfare and was also fitted with a transmitter for research purposes.)

It is a sad story but a common one. My source, who fears being labelled a cynical old fart and a child-support dodger, tells me that hundreds of penguins are eaten in the wild every day, either by seals, sharks or killer whales.

If Happy Feet's support team had done more research, would they have taken the same course of action?

Many people I interviewed at the St Lukes shopping mall said the team's actions had effectively sentenced Happy Feet to death. He was easy pickings. He wasn't match-fit for sea conditions and was plump and over-cared for, so it was naive to free him in the treacherous Southern Ocean.

The reason he washed up on a Wellington beach in the first place was because he was trying to get away from all that, but like an asylum-seeking immigrant with a fatwa on him, we sent him back to the last place he wanted to be.

Oh, my source phoned again. He said he wasn't actually on the boat - but a close friend of his was.

- Herald on Sunday

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