Who watched ‘Happy Feet’ and did not fall in love with penguins? They are truly endearing creatures hobbling on land or flying through the water.
Most scientists believe there are 19 species of penguins living on Earth today. Penguins are flightless aquatic birds whose range extends from Antarctica to the Galapagos Islands. They spend the majority of their life in the water eating krill, small fish and squid. The largest penguin is the emperor penguin, the smallest the little penguin also known as the little blue penguin, blue penguin, little blue fairy penguin or just the fairy penguin. (It seems the names of penguins are lower case in the literature.)
It is the fairy penguin we are interested in today. The fairy penguin is 12-13 inches tall and weighs about 3.3 pounds. The feathers on its head and flippers are an aquamarine blue. In the wild they can live up to 6.5 years, in captivity up to 25 years. Most fairy penguins live in the waters surrounding southern Australia and New Zealand.
As with many aquatic animals the fairy penguins share the ocean waters with oil tankers. These tankers or ships carry oil from its point of extraction to refineries. These tankers move 2,000,000,000 metric tons of oil a year. For the most part the oil is moved safely, however, far too many spills have occurred. In addition, some ships illegally dump oil before they enter port. When oil pours out onto the water it is a death sentence for flora and fauna; life becomes coated with this viscous liquid.
A spot of oil the size of a thumb nail can kill a penguin. Oil mats the feathers allowing the cold to get to their skin – they die of exposure. Oil also makes the penguins heavy making it difficult for them to move leading to starvation.
In 2001 there was a major oil spill near Phillip Island off the coast of Australia. Four-hundred-thirty-eight fairy penguins were affected. Amazingly 96% were saved and released.
Cleaning penguins requires volunteers, warm water, mild detergent and scrubbing. Sounds simple but it is not. Some of the little penguins are too sick to be bathed immediately. Scrubbing can be stressful for the already stressed and sick animals. The penguins themselves want to be clean and begin to preen their feathers thus ingesting the oil. What to do?
The Penguin Foundation on Phillip Island near Melbourne, Australia came up with an idea, put the little fellows in jumpers or sweaters while they wait to be cleaned and as they wait for the natural oils removed during cleaning to return. Sounds like a great idea to me.
The Penguin Foundation along with other organizations put out a request for penguin sweaters. They received thousands many knit by Americans…myself included.
Over time the use of sweaters on penguins has come into question. Some feel the use of sweaters causes additional unnecessary stress. Many organizations have stopped using them satisfying the needs of penguins with modern technology. They continue to have very successful survival rates. Therefore for many organizations sweaters are just being stockpiled; some are sold to support penguin conservation. Foundations however are not discouraging the knitting of sweaters, as they will help one way or another. This author however feels the sweaters can still be helpful in keeping waiting penguins from preening their feathers, it just seems logical. The Penguin Foundation offers other ways to support penguin conservation. If you would like to support the penguins the Penguin Foundation suggests you adopt a Penguin or Donate. To do this use there website:
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