You may want to sit down before reading this. The young emperor penguin who showed up in New Zealand and quickly became an international celebrity, Happy Feet, might have been eaten alive after being released into the ocean last month.
A specialist firm that fitted Happy Feet with a tracking device before being released announced Monday that no signal has been received since Friday, the Guardian reports. The device was meant to transmit a signal when Happy Feet came to the surface and stay on the penguin for months.
It is possible that Happy Feet was eaten in the ocean. Sharks, seals and killer whales are known to eat penguins.
However, Kevin Lay of Sirtrack, the firm that fitted the device, told the Guardian there is a chance the penguin is still alive, and his tracking device came off or stopped working.
"There are some species that will forage on emperor penguins. It's not likely that it has happened to Happy Feet because of the area he was in," he said.
Happy Feet first appeared on Peka Peka beach in New Zealand in mid-June after presumably swimming more than 2,000 miles from his Antarctic home. The penguin quickly became sick and emaciated after eating sand and other debris found on the beach. Happy Feet, who had by then captured the hearts and imaginations of families in New Zealand and around the world, was soon taken to the Wellington Zoo.
Doctors determined that the penguin was eating sand because he mistook it for snow and needed hydration. They pumped Happy Feet's stomach, removing sand and other debris. Hundreds of people gathered at the zoo in late June to watch the endoscopy procedures.
Once he was nursed back to health, officials decided to release him back into the wild.
Watch this amazing video of Happy Feet being released into the wild.
Wildlife expert Colin Miskelly told AFP that the truth about Happy Feet's fate will probably never be known.
"It is unlikely that we will ever know what caused the transmissions to cease, but it is time to harden up to the reality that the penguin has returned to the anonymity from which he emerged," he said.
Happy Feet was the first emperor penguin to be spotted in New Zealand in 44 years.