Claim: Crafters have been asked to knit sweaters for oil-soaked penguins.
Origins: When an ocean-going tanker goes down at sea, loosing crude oil into the ocean, the immediate and long-term effects on the environment are often catastrophic. Equally as dangerous is the illegal practice of passing ships' dumping fuel oil into the water rather than properly disposing of it in port. In the case of the "little penguins" (previously known as "fairy penguins")
who live on Phillip Island near Melbourne, Australia, such accidents and illegal activities have threatened the entire population of penguins.
Cleaning the animals by hand with warm water and a mild detergent then returning them to their natural habitat has been found to be an effective means of dealing with the danger posed by oil spills, but there's a snag in the plan: Often the little penguins are far too ill to be bathed right away, and the scrubbing can be quite stressful. The solution is to slip the oil-coated birds into wool sweaters, which prevent them from preening themselves and possibly swallowing toxic petroleum-based oil as they regain needed strength, and keep them warm until their bodies are once again producing the natural oils (removed by the cleaning) necessary to their insulation.
Where does one get such penguin attire? Appeals are made to the knitting public to place their time, skill, and leftover yarn into the service of animals in need. A New Year's Day 2000 spill of 260 gallons of fuel oil off the southern tip of Australia prompted an appeal that resulted in piles of sweaters
("jumpers," in Australia) being sent to aid the damaged little birds, many crafted by the capable hands of American knitters.
To be better prepared for the next such environmental crisis, in 2001, the Tasmanian Conservation Trust and State Library ran the knit-for-a-penguin campaign. They hoped to build a stockpile of 100 sweaters. They got more than they bargained for.
The result originally had been an oversubscription of this entreaty for aid, with the appeal threatening to escalate into a "Sorcerer's Apprentice" situation. One thousand sweaters have been received so far, with more arriving all the time. The organizers originally wanted to conclude this part of its Oil Spill Response Program, but then rethought that action, deciding to ask the knitting public for a further two thousand penguin sweaters.
So, knit away, if you've a mind to. But keep in mind it's almost impossible to disseminate the news that the need has been met once it has, as myriad appeals gone wrong (such as the Craig Shergold plea for get well cards) prove.
Good intentions pave the road to Hell. They could do it with sweaters.
As one wag put it, "As the library sent out patterns to knitters, the jumpers are all one size and pattern. But the penguins will have a choice of colour."