March of the Penguin Sweaters

When I saw this I thought they had to be kidding.

Penguin Sweaters: Cozy tops give small birds a chance

Oil spills are some of the most challenging environmental disasters. These toxic spills pollute the ocean, often injuring and killing animals who live there. Birds and mammals need to be captured, cleaned, and given medical treatment to have a chance of survival. Rescue workers must act quickly—and sometimes creatively.
Birds in Need

In January 2000 an oil spill near Phillip Island, Australia, threatened the tiny penguins who live there. Rescue workers at the Phillip Island Nature Park tried different ways to keep the penguins warm and to stop them from swallowing the deadly oil. Dressing the penguins in doll sweaters proved to be the most successful technique.

Soon, news of the penguins’ need for sweaters spread via the Internet. Knitters in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States downloaded penguin sweater patterns and set to work.

Even on Factmonster I’m skeptical. So what does Snopes say?

Claim: Crafters have been asked to knit sweaters for oil-soaked penguins.

Status: True.

When an ocean-going tanker goes down at sea, loosing crude oil into the ocean, the immediate and long-term effects on the environment are often catastrophic. Equally as dangerous is the illegal practice of passing ships’ dumping fuel oil into the water rather than properly disposing of it in port. In the case of the “little penguins” (previously known as “fairy penguins”) who live on Phillip Island near Melbourne, Australia, such accidents and illegal activities have threatened the entire population of penguins.

Cleaning the animals by hand with warm water and a mild detergent then returning them to their natural habitat has been found to be an effective means of dealing with the danger posed by oil spills, but there’s a snag in the plan: Often the little penguins are far too ill to be bathed right away, and the scrubbing can be quite stressful. The solution is to slip the oil-coated birds into wool sweaters, which prevent them from preening themselves and possibly swallowing toxic petroleum-based oil as they regain needed strength, and keep them warm until their bodies are once again producing the natural oils (removed by the cleaning) necessary to their insulation.

Who knew? The latest addition to doggie and kitty sweaters…. Penguin haute couture!


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