Oil spills can have a devastating effect on marine life. After an oil spill, one of the most important jobs of rescuers is to fish out oil soaked birds and animals, clean them and rehabilitate them before releasing them into the wild again.

Recently, after an oil spill in the Australian waters, environmentalists claimed that the oil slicks were threatening the existence of the little blue penguins in the south of Australia.

These tiny, blue-backed penguins are barely 41 centimetres in height – half the height of the world’s biggest, and famous Emperor penguins of Antarctica.

A penguin has shiny feathers that are coated in natural oils which make it waterproof and keep the bird warm in the icy waters. Crude oil from a spill destroys these natural oils and the bird fails to protect itself from the cold. And, since it preens its feathers using its beak, it is liable to swallow poisonous oil and die.

During rescue operations, after a minor spill, officials at the Phillip Island National Park (South of Australia) hit upon a unique method to keep the penguins warm and prevent them from swallowing the deadly oil.

And, all it took were a few knitting needles and yarn. Yes, the rescuers actually dressed up the rescued penguins in tiny sweaters, such that only their heads and flippers stuck out.

The designs of these special penguin sweaters were uploaded on the net and countless people from different parts of the world sent sweaters for these tiny birds.

Of course, if you visit Phillip Island, you are not likely to see penguins waddling around in sweaters. This clothing is used only when a penguin has just been rescued from an oil slick. Once the penguins are cleaned and dressed in the sweaters, they are put in salt-water pools for rehabilitation.

As they swim around and regain their strength, the salt water gradually destroys the wool. By the time, the penguins are ready to return to the ocean, their natural oils are restored and they go home dressed only in their feathers.

344 words | 3 minutes
Readability: Grade 8 (13-14 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: planet earth
Tags: #birds, #australia, #feathers, #penguins

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