In the last couple days, friends have been sending me links to the sites requesting knitted sweaters for penguins. It sounds like a joke, but it is actually true.
A recent oil spill off the New Zealand coast has dumped 350 tonnes of oil into the Bay of Plenty – and could leak as much as 1,700 if the ship breaks apart before the rest of its load can be pumped out. Maritime authorities are racing to rescue local wildlife – including many little blue penguins who are being covered in oil.
This is not the first time little penguins who live near Australia and New Zealand have been threatened by oil spills. Spills and dumped crude can be fatal to these little birds since the oil breaks down the penguins' natural insulation and the birds swallow the petroleum when trying to clean themselves off.
However, penguins exposed to oil can be rescued and cleaned by hand with warm water and mild detergent – but they are often sick when they're found and the cleaning process is quite stressful.
So penguins waiting to be cleaned – or recovering from being cleaned – can be protected by being sheathed in a cozy wool sweater which will keep them warm until their feathers insulate them again. The wool also keeps them from ingesting petroleum when preening.
Not surprisingly, appeals for protective penguin sweaters has gone global and viral. When the Tasmanian Conservation Trust issued an appeal in 2001 for penguin sweaters, they hoped to be able to create a stockpile of about 100 sweaters (or jumpers as they call them). They have received over 15,000 and have since closed the project.
Snopes has verified that this is a legitimate appeal – but warns that appeals can often go very wrong and in this case the road to hell could be paved with good... sweaters.
However, the idea of knitting a little sweater to potentially save the life of a little blue is, admittedly, very tempting. So I fired off an email to a yarn store in New Zealand that put out a call for sweaters to check if they do indeed still need sweaters, I mean jumpers. If they do, I’ll start knitting.