Here’s a throwback post to celebrate the wonderful lengths us humans go to in order to protect our planet’s wildlife. I love penguins and I love the fact that thousands of volunteers have kindly knitted jumpers* to help oiled penguins recover. Aren’t they just the best? It makes me want to take up knitting.
*Brit word for sweaters. My dear Australian friend assures me it’s odd but adorable.
When little penguins (Eudyptula minor) are unlucky enough to get oiled during an illegal fuel dump/accidental oil spill, the Penguin Foundation wildlife clinic at St Philip Island Nature Parks, near Melbourne, Australia, leap to the rescue. Since 1998, they have been using woolly jumpers to help oil-affected little penguins recover, and in 2012 recruited thousands of volunteers to donate hand-knitted woolly jumpers in the “Knits for Nature” programme. Although the programme is now closed (they’ve got enough jumpers for now, thanks), the clinic have a huge stockpile of jumpers in case another oil spill occurs.
Oil spills have historically affected the waters surrounding St Philip Island and the little penguins that live there. Oil can threaten the lives of penguins and other birds. It makes them heavy and, because the matted oil prevents their feathers from performing their natural thermoregulatory function, they become very cold very quickly. So, oiled birds have problems hunting successfully and can quickly die of starvation and exposure.
The theory is that the jumpers help oiled birds recover because, as soon as they are rescued, the garments to stop them preening and thus ingesting the poisonous oil. The jumpers are made of 100% wool to keep the birds warm while allowing air to circulate so they don’t overheat. It also absorbs some of the oil (so jumpers aren’t re-used). The jumpers have allowed 96% of all rescued little penguins on St Philip Island to be released back into the wild.
However, there has been some concern that the jumpers may be more of a hindrance than a help.
Even if the jumpers don’t have any direct practical benefit, they are surely better than nothing. Especially as the charity has been improving the jumper design for almost 20 years to minimise any risk they impose on the birds, like flippers/beaks getting caught in the wool or damage to feathers. And jumpers that were sent in by helpful volunteers that weren’t quite the right size or material can also benefit the birds. In September 2015, an Ebay store was launched where you could buy these jumpers from the exclusive “Pinguini” collection, with the proceeds going to the Penguin Foundation.
Thank you, kind humans. Give yourselves a massive pat on the back. You are wonderful. Keep up the good work. Perhaps you could also knit us an alternative, renewable energy source to replace oil? Just an idea.