NEW ZEALAND (GN) - A New Zealand penguin that washed up on a beach in Victoria has been released back to the wild to complete a 2,500km swim home.

The emaciated Fiordland penguin was found struggling against rocks in the shallows at Kennett River, 170km west of Melbourne, on 10 July.

It was taken to Melbourne Zoo by the marine response unit and given a balance of fluids and nutrients until it was well enough to eat. Once it felt better, Melbourne Zoo’s head of veterinary services Dr Michael Lynch said, it began to eat with gusto.

“Once it got going it really stacked on the weight, a huge appetite,” Lynch said. “It was eating 20-25% of its own bodyweight per day. That would be like an 80kg person eating 20kg of food a day. It’s quite amazing how much food it could pack down.”

Once the penguin had returned to a healthy weight — they are usually about 3.5kg — it was sent to Phillip Island Nature Parks to build up its swimming muscles in their larger pools, ready for the journey home to New Zealand.

It was released this month after eight weeks’ recuperation. “We are hoping that it will get back to New Zealand and breed,” Lynch said. “We put a microchip into the bird so if it does turn up back in New Zealand one day and someone reads that microchip we will be very happy.”

Melbourne is at the outer edge of the normal range for the IUCN red-listed species, which has breeding grounds on New Zealand’s south island and surrounding smaller islands.