TNB Night Owl – Penguin Sweaters

Adelie Penguins on iceberg. Photo by Jason Auch.

Animal clothing is typically unnecessary. Sure, pugs will stand for being dressed in costumes, because pugs are famously accommodating. For the most part, though, cats and dogs alike need to be trained to wear sweaters or shirts, and even after they’re trained most seem nonplussed by the outfits they’re wearing.

On rare occasions clothing is exceedingly helpful. Knits for Nature is there for one of those situations – oil spills, and penguins. Phillip Island, Australia, has a domestic penguin population and shipping routes. In the 1990s, a number of small oil spills resulted in conservationists observing young penguins attempting to clean oil from their feathers. The viscous liquid was toxic, and would either make the birds ill or simply kill them.

Some local crafters set to work making jumpers (“sweaters”, in American parlance), to be available in the event of another oil spill. In 2001, a large spill provided a reason to put the clothing to the test.

As young, oil-coated penguins were found, conservationists slipped sweaters over the birds. The natural inclination to clear the oil from their feathers was stymied, as their beaks couldn’t get through the tightly knit material. Of 438 penguins affected, 96% of them survived. The sweaters were a great success.

Perhaps too much of a success.

While the clothing was a very effective emergency tool, it’s not the best option available… but it is very photogenic, it’s easy to create, and it’s easy to replace. Pictures started to spread of the penguins, and crafters from around the world rallied to support the Phillip Island conservationists.

Jumpers began arriving in the mail from around the world. Periodically, a news organization or a web site reporting on oddities (ahem) would recycle the story about the sweaters and new crafters would decide to help. Pictures traveled via e-mail and posts on social media were shared. More sweaters. In 2014, there was a large oil spill… and more than ten thousand new sweaters soon arrived.

Most of the clothes weren’t usable in recovery… buttons and other embellishments made them dangerous for the birds, and many were sized incorrectly or weren’t densely knit. They were still very helpful, as the sweaters were placed on plush penguins and sold to tourists. This proved to be a very effective tool in raising money for the conservation center.

Those funds led to the conservationists purchasing more land and thus protecting more penguins, so in 2019 there was another call for sweaters, this time with the patterns made available. They’ve since filled all of their needs… but if you’re bored, you knit, and you want your design showcased on a plush toy in an Australian bird sanctuary, you may have a new way to fill some of your quarantine time.

Question of the night: Have you ever dressed up your pet?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.