It isn’t unusual for airline flights to be delayed for one reason or another, especially as climate change increases the chances of extreme weather events that can re-route your intended itinerary. Not to mention, an uptick in turbulence is enough to make anyone rethink their air travel plans. But it’s not every day that a flight gets delayed because there’s a penguin on the runway.
Wellington International Airport in New Zealand received the surprise of its life when one flightless bird decided they wanted to experience air travel. Here’s the adorable story of how a penguin delayed flights at a New Zealand airport.
A penguin caused flight delays at Wellington National Airport in New Zealand.
According to an Instagram post by the Wellington Airport, a “very unusual little visitor” was found waddling on the airport runway on Jan. 12, 2024. The unexpected visitor was a blue penguin, otherwise known as a kororā.
While kororās are common in New Zealand, they primarily live on islands offshore to the mainland, per the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The little penguins usually only come ashore at night, which is partially why the Wellington Airport residents were so shocked to see one out and about.
“The pilot and passengers patiently waited while Wellington Airport staff raced out to collect and help the visitor,” the Instagram post stated.
The runway at Wellington Airport is located along the rocky coastline, and airport officials believe the young penguin was able to sneak under the fencing along the runway.
“It’s a very unusual occurrence, and there’s no record of a penguin visiting us like this before,” Wellington Airport Wildlife Officer Jack Howarth told New Zealand news outlet Stuff. Howarth said the little penguin was in a “less-than-impressed mood” when airport staff were able to catch him.
"Our runway sensors were reading 50 degrees at the time, so it's no wonder they weren't particularly happy!" stated the airport Instagram post. New Zealand uses Celsius to measure temperature, and 50 degrees Celsius is roughly 122 degrees Fahrenheit! It's no wonder this little guy became so dehydrated.
The penguin is now recovering at the Wellington Zoo.
Airport staff took the kororā to The Nest at the Wellington Zoo to help it recover from being out in the heat longer than it should have been. While zoos as a general practice are not always the best for animals' physical or emotional wellbeing, The Nest is a wildlife hospital located within the zoo.
Veterinarians at The Nest believe the penguin is a six-week-old fledgling, Stuff reported. “Though thin, hungry, and a little underweight, the fledgling was otherwise in good health,” a zoo spokesperson said.
Since the fledgling was brought to the zoo, the baby has gained some weight, and all their adult feathers have grown in, reported NDTV. It could take a couple of weeks for the new feathers to become waterproof, after which time the penguin will be returned to the wild.
Meanwhile, the airport has done some “penguin proofing” on its fencing to “keep our flippered friends out of trouble” in the future.