Release goes smoothly

He needed a little push before speeding backward down a makeshift slide. Once in the water, he popped his head up for one last look. And then gone. The wayward emperor penguin known as “Happy Feet” was back home in Antarctic waters after an extended sojourn spent capturing hearts in New Zealand.

Happy Feet was released into the ocean south of New Zealand on Sunday, more than two months after he came ashore on a beach nearly 3,000 km from home and became an instant celebrity.

A veterinarian said the release went remarkably smoothly given that the boat was being tossed about in 25-foot swells in the unforgiving Antarctic ocean.

She said the bird was carried inside his custom-built crate to the stern for final send-off. The crew had already cut the engines and put in place a canvas slide that they soaked with water from a hose.

The 3-foot-tall aquatic bird was found on June 20 on Peka Peka Beach, 65 km northwest of Wellington. It had been 44 years since an emperor penguin was last spotted in the wild in New Zealand.

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