Lost Penguin 'Happy Feet' Released Into Wild, World Tracks Journey Back to Antarctica

The wayward emperor penguin that washed on to the shores of a New Zealand beach in June and became an instant worldwide celebrity was released back into the wild on Sunday.

Named "Happy Feet" because of the parallels between his story and the tale of the beloved animated character, the 3-year-old penguin was released into the chilly Antartic Ocean.

After four days at sea on the research ship Tangaroa, Happy Feet seemed a little annoyed, or even nervous as he slid off a custom made penguin slide and began his journey back to his home of Antarctica, The Associated Press (AP) reports.

"It's an indescribable feeling to see a patient finally set free. It's definitely the best part of the job," veterinary surgeon Lisa Argilla told the AP.

It is believed that Happy Feet had confused the sandy beach near Wellington, New Zealand for snow. However, as an Antarctic animal that eats snow for moisture, eating sand made him sick.

Argilla treated the penguin when he was found on June 20, emaciated and near death. Happy Feet required surgery to remove sand and sticks that were embedded in his stomach.

Afterwards, the penguin was transferred to the Wellington Zoo where he received care for two months.

The Wellington Zoo reports that its daily attendance doubled while Happy Feet was there, despite him rarely being on display. Fans, including New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and actor Stephen Fry, were content to watch him eat, sleep and waddle via a zoo web cam.

"He's brought a lot of hope and joy to people," Wellington Zoo chief executive Karen Fifield told the AP. "His story has driven to the heart of what makes us human."

Over 1,700 people visited the Wellington Zoo last Sunday to say goodbye to Happy Feet. The zoo was able to cover the full cost of his stay through donations totaling $28,000.

Zoologists hope that Happy Feet will meet up with other emperor penguins during his 2,000-mile journey back to Antarctica.

The world will be able to track his journey back to Antarctica via, nzemperor.com, as Happy Feet has been fitted a satellite tracker and microchip.