On October 5th, not 2 years since the epic BP fail off the Gulf Coast caused the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, oceanic environmental tragedy struck again - this time 12 nautical miles off the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, in the Bay of Plenty. The threat: a loaded cargo ship (the Rena) run aground, hemmoraging oil, periodically dumping shipping containers from it's dangerously listing decks, and on the verge of fracturing into pieces with the next storm surge. The catastrophe is now the worst in New Zealand's maritime history, and it struck cruelly during breeding season for many native birds, who will now have to deal with sticky black tar as poisonous nest decorum.
In the scramble to clean up after such a devestating event, the desperately motivated can be counted on to get creative... With more and more oil-soaked birds washing onto New Zealand's beaches (over 1,200 casualties recorded so far) a unique and charming request was issued recently in an effort to aide the rescue and rehab of one of NZed's pluckiest avians - the penguin. What could these tiny tux-wearing birds need that trained wildlife cleaning crews couldn't provide? Sweaters! Yes, sweaters (aka "jumpers" in Kiwi-speak). You see, while waiting to be bathed (a thorough affair that can take over an hour per bird), there is a risk that ill, tar-soaked birds will try to preen out the gunk coating their feathers - injesting dangerous amounts of oil in the process. Sweaters provide a (jaunty) barrier between beaks and feathers - keeping oil out of penguin bellies - and they help warm birds that are highly stressed and uncomfortable, before and after being washed.
Grist.org reports that this is not the first mass call for penguin wooly-wear... Apparently, in 2001, the Tasmanian Conservation Trust thought it wise to try to bank penguin jumpers in preparation for a possible disaster: what began as a goal of 100 sweaters ended up with the reciept of roughly 1,000 after the request went viral and knitters got busy. Similar efforts have been launched to aide oil-soaked penguins off the coast of South Africa as well.
Above: an AP photo of a penguin sporting a jumper after a spill near Tasmania in 2000; a penguin, mid bath, photo from animaltracks.today.com (such a teeny little guy - so many blue latex fingers!); and a clean penguin recouping at a wildlife center in Tauranga, photo by Bradley Ambrose/Getty Images.
My travels around New Zealand this past summer were largely based out of Auckland - a few hours from Tauranga - and I had the pleasure of taking in the beauty of the Bay of Plenty coastline. My thoughts are with those who make this region their home. For photos of the Rena spill and it's effect on Tauranga beaches, see this gallery at the Guardian; read more about the spills effects on NZ's birds here; and see more pics of past penguin sweater endeavors here.
As of this posting, the overwhelming and quick support of knitters around the world has once again filled the emergency closets of New Zealand's penguins with turtlenecks - but if you're curious, or would like to make your own penguin sweater for kicks, I've posted below the penguin jumper pattern, as found originally on the website of Skeinz, a Napier, New Zealand knit shop - *it should take able hands about an hour to craft:
Penguin Jumper in 8ply
(must be 100% wool)
1 pair 3.25mm , 1 pair of 3.75mm needles , 1 set of 3.25mm dpns or circular
Elastic (approx. 35cm)
- Cast on 36 stitches using 3.25 needles. K1, P1 to end of row.
- Repeat this row 7 times. Change to 3.75mm needles and K2, P2 rib.
- Work 4 rows increasing at each end of every row. (44 sts)
- Continue until work measures 15 cms.
- Decrease 1 st at each end of every row until 28 sts remain.
- Decrease 1 st. in middle of next row (27 sts.)
- Leave on needle.
- Make second side the same.
- Transfer the 54 sts from both pieces to 3 of the set of 4 3.25mm needles (18 sts on each) and work a round neck in K1 P1 rib for 10 rows.
- Cast off.
- Stitch up sides to decreasing to 27sts (opening for flipper). Add elastic to the top and bottom to prevent the penguins getting out of them. Top: 15cm of elastic; bottom 17 cm (knots allowed). Flat elastic is okay.