A couple of months ago, we followed the path of an adventurous walrus named Wally. He left his home in the Arctic Circle and took a circuitous tour of western Europe.

Today’s topic switches hemispheres but maintains the wandering nature. Unfortunately, Pingu the Penguin does not seem to be joyriding like Wally, but the tale is nevertheless just as fantastic. 

On the South Island of New Zealand, south of Christchurch, a man named Harry Singh strolled on a beach near Birdlings Flat, an apt name for the encounter Singh was about to experience. Of all the avian sights Singh might have imagined, a penguin was not among them. Yet there on the shore stood a dazed, tuxedoed being.

“First I thought it (was) a soft toy, suddenly the penguin moved his head, so I realized it was real,” Singh related to the BBC. “It did not move for one hour… and [looked] exhausted.”

Pingu should have looked exhausted. Pingu, which is the German word for penguin and the namesake of a stop-motion television show from the 1990s and 2000s, is an Adélie penguin. This species lives in Antarctica. He had swum over 3,000 kilometers (nearly 1,900 miles) by the time he reached New Zealand and Harry Singh!

This event – a penguin from Antarctica in New Zealand – is extraordinarily rare. Since the 1960s, Pingu is just the third Adélie penguin to reach the Kiwi climes and the first since 1993.

An Adélie penguin in Antarctica - photo by Andrew Shiva
Adélie penguins on an iceberg in Antarctica - photo by Jason Auch

The penguin on the shores of New Zealand seemed ready to rest. In alien territory, that’s not always the best idea, even though exhaustion from thousands of miles in the sea is certainly inescapable. Singh contacted penguin rescuers because he was concerned a local dog might make a meal of the lethargic bird.

Rescuers and veterinarians captured Pingu to examine him. He was underweight and dehydrated, as might be expected after such an unusually lengthy trek. Pingu received liquids and fish smoothies to help aid in recovery. The group then released Pingu onto another nearby beach, one that is free of dogs.

Though the experts are unsure why Pingu ended up in New Zealand, they hope he will feel the need to return to Antarctica. Perhaps after a bit of rest and relaxation on the South Island, he’ll have the stamina to repeat his voyage in reverse.

Though I suppose it is possible, Pingu does not seem to have been on a swim-about like that cheeky walrus, Wally, from the other pole of our planet. Hopefully, he can join his brethren again on the Antarctic Peninsula. As you can see in the video above, they are powerful swimmers. He made it 3,000 kilometers once; hopefully, he can do it again!

For a video of Pingu’s release, direct your browser to this post from the New Zealand Department of Conservation.

Godspeed, Pingu!

Pingu poses for the camera before hitting the waves - photo from New Zealand's Department of Conservation

Further Reading and Exploration

Rare Antarctic penguin accidentally travels 3,000km to New Zealand – BBC

Adélie Penguin – National Geographic

Adelie penguin – New Zeland Birds Online

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