Antarctic emperor penguin turns up on Peka Peka beach in NZ after getting lostEdit

Updated: 22 Jun 2011Share this news?...Click box [1]Read more on Antarctic emperor penguin appear in Peka Peka beach [2]A long way from home: An Emperor Penguin waddles along Peka Peka beach in New Zealand after becoming lost while swimming in the Southern Ocean [3] [4]Wrong turning: A colony of emperor penguins in Antarctica. The continent is home to dozens of colonies of the species Somewhere along the way, as it swam through the icy waters of Antarctica, a young emperor penguin took a wrong turn - and ended up in New Zealand. The black and white bird came ashore on a beach in the south of the North Island nearly 4,000 miles away from its usual habitat. There are two dozens colonies of the penguins in Antarctica, but this is the first time for 44 years a 'vagrant' bird has turned up in New Zealand.

The creature's astonishing journey was witnessed by a woman walking her dog as the 2ft bird waddled out of the water in front of her. Christine Wilton stumbled across the nautical wanderer on Peka Peka beach. She said: 'It was out of this world to see it.

'It was this glistening white thing standing up on the sand and I thought I was seeing things.' The tale of the lost penguin is similar to the 2006 children's film Happy Feet, in which a young penguin finds himself far from home during a voyage of discovery.

Conservationists believe it has completed an incredible journey for such a young bird - it is estimated to be around 10 months old. The most likely explanation for for its appearance in New Zealand is the hunt for food. The emperor penguin - a species discovered during Captain James Cook's 19th century voyage - may have been searching for squid and krill and got lost among the ice floes of Antarctica.

They almost never make landfall near <censored> so it is likely that this one decided it had had enough of swimming through the Southern Ocean and had come ashore. Experts said it may also have rested on an ice floe during its travels and was carried north for a great distance before it made a swim for dry land. Emperor penguins can swim at up to 15mph. But because it would have had to rest at time and would not have been able to swim at that speed for long, its wayward journey would have taken more than a month. The tallest and largest species of penguins - emperors can grow up to 4ft tall. Colin Miskelly, a curator of New Zealand Museum, said: 'They can spend months at a time in the ocean and come ashore only to moult or rest.' Some two dozens colonies of the birds are throught to exist in Antarctica, ranging from less than 200 pairs to more than 50,000.

They are the toughest of all the species, the only ones able to reproduce during the Antarctic winter, when temperatures can drop to minus 50c.

Mr Miskelly said the plucky bird would have to find its way back south soon if it was going to survive.

He said: 'It is probably hot and thirsty and has been eating wet sand.

'It doesn't realise that the sand isn't going to melt inside it because they typically eat snow - their only liquid.'

New Zealand residents have been warned to give the bird a wide berth - it can inflict painful bites if threatened.

Vagrant emperor penguins have been reported as far apart as the South Shetland Islands, Tierra del Fuego, the Falklands, South Sandwich Islands, Kerguelen Island, Heard Island and New Zealand.