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Zoo suspects Happy Feet's tracker glue failed

Monday 14 Nov 2011 6:04 p.m.

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By Charlotte Shipman

An experiment is offering hope to legions of Happy Feet fans that the Emperor penguin did not become a Happy Meal.

His vet is sure the transmitter superglued to his back fell off because the glue failed in the cold salt water.

Two and a half months after he left our shores, Happy Feet is still enthralling audiences.

A plastic resin replica of the Emperor penguin has been installed at Coastlands Mall on the Kapiti Coast, but what happened to the flesh and feathered version is still up for debate.

His vet, Lisa Argilla, is offering hope of a happy ending. 

“I'm pretty sure he's cruising around and one day will head back to Antarctica,” she says.

Eight days after he was released the tracking device on his back stopped transmitting.

It was attached with a type of super glue.

Ms Argilla is confident the glue failed and the device fell off because she and NIWA scientists conducted an experiment on board the Tangaroa.

Using the same type of superglue they stuck plastic, to represent the tracker, to various pieces of fabric instead of feathers.

“We did about six different combinations of different materials stuck together and I don't think we would have needed material that was so close to Happy Feet,” she says. “…it had nothing to do with what was stuck together it had a lot to do with the fact the glue just became brittle and cracked and basically fell apart.”

In each test, the glue broke down after six days of being submerged in cold salt water.

The technique and glue is commonly used to track wildlife including Emperor penguins, some have kept trackers on for up to four months.

“It's tough because anything stronger you run the risk of injuring the bird. You don't want to obviously burn skin or damage the feathers irreparably.”

The risk of ruining these feathers is much lower.

The Happy Feet sculpture doesn't have a tracker because the Kapiti Coast community would also like to think it simply fell off.

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