A brave little penguin made its way back into the water after a 1,500-mile journey that left it struggling and underweight.
Veterinarians at the Melbourne Zoo released the Fiordland penguin at Summerland Beach on Phillip Island off the coast of Melbourne last month after the flightless bird spent all summer at their facilities recuperating from its travels.
"It's a tough life out there in the ocean, but we're hopeful this penguin will find its way back to New Zealand and eventually breed,” said the zoo’s head of veterinary services, Dr. Michael Lynch. “We've given it every chance to do so.”
The Fiordland penguin, which is endemic to New Zealand, is believed to have traveled from its home, across the Tasman Sea and all the way into Australia – a journey equivalent to the distance between the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt to the Roman Colosseum in Italy.
"We don't fully understand the factors for a Fiordland swimming to the Victorian coast, but the species' natural behavior is to forage for food over long distances," Lynch said in a statement to the Melbourne Zoo.
When it wound up in the Kennett River west of Melbourne, the penguin was desperate for some TLC.
“The penguin was really underweight when it came in, so we had to address its fluid balance and then gradually introduce it to food and give it vitamin support,” Lynch said. “Over time, it began to put on weight again.”
They also gave the penguin swimming lessons to help it build some muscle for the journey home.
Veterinarians said the species is threatened, with only approximately 5,000 Fiordland penguins left in the wild, and they hope this rehabilitation contributes to the well-being of the species.