New Zealand Penguins in Sweaters

By on November 15, 2013

On October 5, 2011, the cargo ship, Rena, ran aground off the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand, spilling 350 tons of oil into the ocean and creating the country’s worst environmental disaster in decades. Large areas of coastline were polluted and more than a thousand sea birds were killed. The native Blue Penguin population was especially affected.

A huge cleanup operation was immediately put in place to limit the impact on the animals, birds and fish that inhabit the ocean and shoreline. Injured and sick animals were taken to shelters where they could be treated and rehabilitated.

Penguins are especially at risk in disasters like this because of the effect oil has on the birds’ feathers. The feathers of a penguin are unique in that they are designed to form a watertight barrier against the wet and cold. Once even a small amount of oil gets on a penguin’s feathers, the natural barrier is compromised, putting the birds at risk. To make matters worse, as the penguins try to preen themselves, they ingest the toxic oil.

Due to the large number of penguins rescued, it was going to take some time to treat them all and wash them clean. So, word went out that little knitted sweaters were needed to keep the penguins warm and prevent them preening until they could be cleaned up.

Skeinz, a yarn store in Napier, New Zealand, saw the opportunity to help by creating a pattern for the “penguin jumpers” and then alerting all their customers to the plight of the penguins by posting the story on their website. They encouraged everyone to knit penguin jumpers and arranged to be the collection point for the finished garments. This request quickly went viral and people from around the world, seeing an opportunity to help, took action by knitting their own versions of the jumpers. The response was huge and before long the store had collected enough penguin jumpers for all the birds in need.

Amazingly, the sweaters kept coming, in all colours and patterns, until there were in excess of 5,000 sweaters, and Skeinz begged people to please stop sending the jumpers. So now the question was, what were they going to do with all those excess sweaters?

The solution was the formation of the Skeinz Penguin Rescue Fund, based on a similar Australian initiative, the Penguin Foundation, formed after the 2002 oil spill off Tasmania. The leftover jumpers were used to ‘dress’ toy penguins and sell them from the Skeinz website. All the money from the sales go directly into the Skeinz Penguin Fund, which has already donated much-needed money to NZ Forest & Bird to help with the rehabilitation of the area and is providing on-going support for penguin populations around New Zealand.

Want to get in on the action? Visit the Skeinz website to see the cute toy penguins in their smart sweaters; they would make a perfect gift for anyone, young and old alike.

If you are a knitter, you can help with the on-going work of the Skeinz Penguin Rescue Fund by copying the pattern from the site and creating your own special penguin jumpers to donate to the cause. All the proceeds from the sale of the toy penguins are used to ensure the on-going health and survival of penguin populations.

  • halfpastgreen

    I love this story. It shows the lengths people will go to, to help others in distress. :)