In January 2000 an oil spill near Phillip Island, Australia, threatened the tiny penguins who live there. The penguins’ home was already at risk – in the past 80 years, the penguins have lost more than 3/4 of their Phillip Island breeding area, mostly as a result of human actions.
Dressing the penguins in doll sweaters proved to be a successful technique to keep the penguins warm and to stop them from swallowing oil. The birds’ feathers are coated in natural oils that keep them warm and waterproof. The oil from the spill destroys the animals’ natural oils. Penguins also clean and smooth their feathers using their beaks. If a penguin preens after an oil spill, it will swallow poisonous oil, and probably die.
Knitters in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States set to work, some adding special touches, like little bows or knitting the sweaters in the colors of their favorite sports teams.
Thanks to the hard work of volunteers, the Phillip Island Nature Park now has more penguin sweaters than penguins who need sweaters. But all involved hope that this unique effort will inspire ways to help other marine wildlife.