It's the first time an animal has even been stolen from Sea World.
Dirk, a 7-year-old fairy penguin, was found under a pier in Australia's Gold Coast Broadwater shark-infested waters on Sunday.
Having been born in captivity, the penguin had "never experienced things like boats, or wide open spaces," Sea World Gold Coast's director of marine sciences Trevor Long said. "He was quite distressed, quite dishevelled, you could see that he was upset. His chest was heaving so I think that he had been through quite an ordeal."
Dirk had no chance of surviving in the wild.
Fortunately, a couple spotted the spooked penguin splashing in the water, likely panicked by a shark, after it had been chased under a pier by a dog.
After a night under observation, Dirk rejoined his Sea World friends — and his breeding partner, Peaches.
"These penguins do mate for life and that's why it was so important to get this bird back," Long told the Australian Broadcasting Company.
Three men have been charged with trespassing, stealing and unlawfully keeping a protected animal. They were caught after boasting about keeping the penguin in their apartment. They later released him into the wild.