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Penguin in sweater Some New Zealand penguins received sweaters, like the one pictured here, following an oil spill. (Anna Zieminski / AFP / Getty Images)

Penguins in Sweaters?

New Zealanders knit like crazy to help rescued birds

By Tyrus Cukavac | January 5 , 2012
<p>PHOTO: Sweaters help keep penguins warm until rescuers can remove oil. (AP Images)</p><p>MAP: The oil spill occurred off the coast of Tauranga, New Zealand. (Jim McMahon)</p>

PHOTO: Sweaters help keep penguins warm until rescuers can remove oil. (AP Images)

MAP: The oil spill occurred off the coast of Tauranga, New Zealand. (Jim McMahon)

Penguins in New Zealand recently received little, penguin-size sweaters. Though they look adorable on the birds, they don’t just make a fashion statement. Rather, the sweaters can help keep the penguins warm and safe after a devastating oil spill coated their feathers with oil.

Last October, a cargo ship heading for the Port of Tauranga in New Zealand ran aground, spilling almost 400 tons of oil. The spill threatened a population of blue penguins on the north island of New Zealand. Thousands of penguins and other local birds died. Volunteers rushed to rescue 360 survivors coated with the sticky, poisonous oil.

After the disaster, Skeinz, a yarn store in New Zealand, put out a call for help. On its Web site, the store provided patterns and instructions that people could use to make sweaters for the penguins.

But how do sweaters help?

If a penguin gets covered in oil, it can accidentally swallow the poisonous oil while cleaning itself. The sweaters keep penguins’ beaks away from the oil. Oil also damages the special feathers that keep penguins warm. The sweaters provide an extra layer of warmth until rescue workers can remove the oil. To do this, workers must carefully bathe each penguin in a detergent that breaks down the oil.

So many people responded to the call that Skeinz had to request that people stop sending them penguin sweaters! Rescue workers have since begun releasing the birds back into the wild.

This isn’t the first time penguins have been helped by creative knitting. In 2000, rescue workers used sweaters to protect penguins after an oil spill off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. Click here to read a story by a penguin specialist who helped out in that cleanup!

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