The 2017-18 season has been a hard one to witness as we had a number of Giant Petrels predating our penguins.
Unfortunately many adult Little Penguins were taken while coming ashore to feed their chicks, which meant we ended up caring, feeding and sending to sea three times the number of penguin chicks we normally have to rehabilitate on a bad food shortage year.
One petrel in particular had a big impact, even taking penguins off the rocks after dark as they tried to make their way up onto the hillsides to feed their babies.
The good fledged chicks that did get away to sea had to face the petrels patrolling the heads trying to pick them off as they were leaving the bay for the first time to find feeding grounds and learn to hunt for themselves.
The story of Fat Foot starts a bit before he came to us as a petrel victim of the main big exodus of chicks leaving the bay. The petrel that got hold of him by his leg must have pretty much had its fill to not pursue him for another strike when he wiggled loose as it juggled him for a kill hold. He would not have been fast with the injuries he had already sustained. He was pretty beat up with a badly twisted leg and a bruised back but he made his way to the beach where he was spotted lying on the sand exhausted and in shock.
We took it in care and were hoping to rehabilitate him thinking that swimming therapy and antibiotics would help him out and so a quick and easy first name was thought of: Fat Foot.
When we realised that the injury wasn’t improving but his moral and joy to swim not impacted he was given a proper name, Tuta, being the first part of the name of the famous Maori Chief Tutakakahikura.
He deserved such a name because he was a very special penguin of extraordinary determination to always make the best of his situation. He showed a very lively attitude and a strong determination to survive so he stayed with us long after several less fortunate adults and chicks were taken to the vet and euthanized from petrel mutilations.
He did well and loved his swims in the big pool at the beach showing all the rehab chicks how it was done, but as time went on the chicks in care were released to sea until it was only Fat Foot left swimming in the rehab pool.
He suddenly looked a bit lonely and not his happy self as he had been swimming with the others but he tried to make new friends and tried the geese company, a really funny thing to watch as they were less than impressed and backed off very rapidly from the approach of the strange little blue bird.
I have to admit that on his part he didn't like the approach of the black oyster catcher coming to share the pool for a fresh water bath even if they are only his size. I suspect the black wings reminded him of the grim reaper of the sea, Giant petrel! That had once had him in its cruel grip.
But soon after that he suddenly started doing some pretty strange things in the pool. He was diving and talking, always towards the sea as if the other penguins were just there beyond his pool. He picked up sticks from the bottom of the pool and seemed to pretend they were fish, juggling them like he would if it was a fish he wanted to swallow. Then he would look at me and drop the stick and go back diving and talking to the sea. He was telling me what he wanted loud and clear. What he wanted was just beyond the rocks at the mouth of the pool.
He still has a fat foot and he might not have much chance of surviving despite big signs of improvements and adaptations but he deserves to be given that chance. His injuries were as healed as they ever were going to be and he was no longer showing dependence on us. Injured Penguins stay dependent on you until they feel ready for release and that was where Fat Foot was now. He was ready for whatever the future held. He wanted to go.
Today 28th March 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!