A penguin who became a worldwide sensation after beaching more than 2,000 miles from his Antarctic home has been eaten by a killer whale, it is feared.

The emperor, dubbed Happy Feet by rescuers, is thought to have met his end days after being released into the Antarctic Ocean.

Into the wild: The emperor penguin, Happy Feet, in his special cage
moments before he was going to be released. File pic/getty images

It came two-and-a-half months after he was found wandering on a beach in New Zealand.

He ended up there after getting disoriented and swimming the wrong way.

The animal also needed surgery after confusing sand with snow and eating it.

He had to have four operations at Wellington Zoo, where experts gave him a 50 per cent chance of survival.
Happy Feet eventually made a full recovery and was released earlier this month.

Sirtrack, which was following his journey, said the penguin had been making good progress until September 9 -- covering between 15 and 20 miles a day in the choppy waters.

But it is now thought Happy Feet was eaten by a killer whale a week into his venture after Sirtrack failed to pick up a signal for three days.

The tracker can only transmit when it is above the water surface, which suggests Happy Feet has not come up for air in three days.

It is also unlikely the gadget has come off as the device was designed to stay on.

A spokesman from Sirtrack confirmed there was a chance he had been eaten, adding: "That's what makes the world go round."