The 2017 - 2018 season has been a hard one. (Read 2017-2018 Breeding Season at Pohatu Bay to find out exactly why it has been so difficult.) During this tough season we were able to rehabilitate many penguins, but one in particular, will forever be remembered.
Before Fat Foot became Fat Foot he was simply another young penguin whom had recently fledged the nest. He fledged during the massive exodus of penguins sometime in late October, the same time when the Giant Petrel had begun to patrol our bay. We found Fat Foot on the beach with a badly twisted leg and injured back. Based on his conditions we assumed that he had been injured by one of the petrels. However, for some miraculous reason, he had managed to get away, but not without life threatening injuries.
We took him into our care and he soon charmed us all with his wit and perseverance. He earned the name Fat Foot not on purpose, but from pure convenience. At that time we had so many penguins in care that we had to some how identify them; so, “go feed the one with the fat foot” eventually turned into “go feed Fat Foot!” Due to the severity of his injuries we were prepared to either put him down or place him in permanent care. However, as time progressed our little Fat Foot showed remarkable improvements. He went from idly floating in swim therapy to swimming, diving and even trying to catch fish!
Over time we realized that it wasn’t necessarily the injury itself that was healing, but his attitude. He still could not properly use his foot and his back would forever be deformed, but he showed grit and perseverance. Because of this Shireen officially gave him the proper name, Tuta, after the famous local Maori Chief Tutukakahikura.
While Fat Foot or Tuta was in our care we took him swimming in our rehabilitation pool 2-3 times a day. For him, the water was absolute freedom. He no longer felt the pressures of his foot, rather, he was free to float and swim and dance (which he did!) Often, he would out perform the newer rehab chicks; doing twists and turns and squaking up and down the pool. However, as time progressed those chicks were released, one-by-one, into the sea. Until one day Fat Foot was the only penguin left swimming in the rehab pool.
His demeanor changed instantly. Without any other companions around, Fat Foot became lonely and was no longer his happy self. Out of desperation he even tried to befriend the local geese. Of course, they were less than impressed and backed away quickly from the strange, little blue bird.
After being on his own for a few days Fat Foot started doing some strange things in the rehab pool. He began diving and talking, always towards the sea as if the other penguins were just beyond the pool. He picked up sticks from the bottom of the pool and juggled them around as if they were fish he wanted to eat. Then, he would look at me, drop the stick and go back diving and talking to the sea. He was telling me what he wanted loud and clear.
Fat Foot made it clear that he no longer needed us. He may forever have a fat foot and deformed back, but with his improved attitude and eagerness it was time to let him go. (Typically injured penguins stay dependent on their handler until they feel ready for release, once ready they show eagerness towards the sea and refuse feedings.) That was where Fat Foot was now. He was ready for whatever the future held.
On March 28th, 2018 Fat Foot left us for the big blue. Good on you Fat Foot. You will always be one special penguin to us.
Good luck and good fishing Fat Foot!