Happy Feet, the wayward Emperor penguin that washed up onto the shore of New Zealand's North Island in June, finally began his long trip home to Antarctica on Sunday.
The famously lost penguin captured the hearts of the world. We watched as he ambled around on Peka Peka Beach near Wellington. We laughed and marveled at how the silly bird could have gotten so lost that he ended up some 2000 miles away from his Antarctic home. We cringed as he impulsively ate twigs and sand, getting sick and undergoing multiple surgeries, including an endoscopy with the head of gastroenterology at a Wellington hospital.
Then came the news that he may never be able to go home because he would need a special permit from the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry's Antarctic policy unit. Scientists feared that if Happy Feet returned, he would pass on some unknown disease to all of his friends.
Like all pressing government issues, New Zealand set up a penguin advisory committee with a panel of experts to determine the fate of Happy Feet.
So, when the news came that the beloved penguin would be shipped back to sub-Antarctic waters on a scientific research vessel, Happy Feet fans across the globe took a collective sigh of relief.
After nearly 1,700 people gathered at the Wellington Zoo on Sunday to say farewell, Tangaroa set sail from the capital on August 29 with the celebrity penguin onboard.
The juvenile Emperor penguin returned to the Southern Ocean waters on Sunday, two months after his remarkable trip to New Zealand - well north of his normal environs.
Before his release, Happy Feet was fitted with a Sirtrack KiwiSat 202 Satellite Transmitter that transmits signals twice a day for three hours, so the penguin's global fans can track him as he swims home.
He got off to a bit of a rough start. In a video (below) showing his release, Happy Feet seemed reluctant to leave his crate aboard the research vessel Tangaroa. The penguin needed a nudge to slide off the ship, and then began swimming due east. Eventually, he took a turn for the southeast, but he still has a ways to go before he will make it home.
In the video of the bird's release near Campbell Island, voyage leader Ricahrd O'Driscoll noted that the bird seemed rather perplexed.
He went onto his belly ... unfortunately he went down the stern ramp backwards rather than forwards, so he wouldn't have got a perfect 10 for entry, O'Driscoll joked.
Though Happy Feet has done a bit of zigzagging over the past two days, scientists note that normal deviations to his swimming course are to be expected as he feeds.
You can track Happy Feet's progress online at http://www.nzemperor.com/
View footage of Happy Feet's last moments with his human friends: