A young Emperor penguin was very far away from home. Apparently he took a wrong turn from the Antarctic and endured a 2,000-mile journey to New Zealand, the first time in 44 years that one of the creatures has been sighted there in the wild.
Christine Wilton was walking her dog on the beach when she first spotted the disoriented penguin Monday evening.
"It was out-of-this-world to see it," Wilton said. "Like someone just dropped it from the sky."
Wilton said the scene on Peka Peka Beach reminded her of the 2006 movie "Happy Feet," in which a young penguin finds himself stranded far from home.
"This one would have been among this year's crop of chicks and usually they stay among the pack ice and feed on fish and squid and krill," said penguin expert Colin Miskelly. "But this one's just kept going north and it's a very long way from its usual range."
Emperors are the tallest and largest species of penguin. They can grow up to 4 feet tall and weigh more than 75 pounds.
Miskelly says the penguin is about 10 months old and healthy with plenty of body fat. It may have been searching for squid and krill when it got lost.
To survive, the penguin will need to find its way back south. The bird is probably hot and thirsty, and it had been eating wet sand.
"It doesn't realize that the sand isn't going to melt inside it," Miskelly said. "They typically eat snow, because it's their only liquid."
However, he said, the bird was in no immediate danger from dehydration because Emperor penguins can also drink salt water in the summer.
Officials plan to let nature take its course. Experts said the bird could live several weeks before needing another meal.
The Associated Press contributed to this story