AWOL penguin outruns Japan coastguard

A penguin that has been on the run from a Tokyo aquarium is alive and well, a park official said Thursday, as it emerged the fugitive had given the slip to Japan's well-equipped coastguard.

More than 30 sightings of the 60-centimetre (2 foot) Humbolt penguin have been reported to Tokyo Sea Life park since it fled in early March, "many of them recently, including today", park spokesman Takashi Sugino told AFP.

With an identification ring attached to its wing, the one-year-old bird has been spotted swimming in various locations around Tokyo Bay, "mostly in our neighbourhood", said Sugino.

"It is difficult to capture the animal unless we gather more information and narrow down the area of its movement," he said.

"It moves fast like a fish and cannot be captured by a net from a boat. One idea is to catch it when it is on the land."

Even Japan's coastguard have been caught flat-footed by the escapee, it was revealed Thursday.

On May 7, two boats with 10 officers on board followed the bird for about an hour before it disappeared from view in waters nine kilometres (six miles) from the park.

"We kept the penguin under surveillance, wondering how to catch it," said Kaname Taguchi, a spokesman for the Tokyo Coast Guard Office. "But we lost sight of it before the people from the aquarium arrived."

The hunt for the bird -- known only as Penguin Number 337 -- began in early March after the bird was spotted bathing in a river that runs into Tokyo Bay.

Keepers believe the creature made its break for freedom after being startled into climbing over a rock twice its size, leaving 134 fellow penguins behind.

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