The other day a story began spreading via social media that knitters were needed to make sweaters for penguins hurt in an oil spill. Almost immediately, some started saying it was a hoax, that it was an old story and that the charity mentioned had long ago gotten plenty of sweaters and didn't need more. I've done some digging, and I've been in touch with the Penguin Foundation, the Australian charity named in the most recent story. I've put together a Q&A of what crafters are asking and what I've learned from my research. It should clear things up. The short version: Yes, you can knit a penguin sweater, and yes, it'll help the penguins -- just probably not in the way you think. Read on for the details.
Q: Penguins wear sweaters? Really?
A: Yes. Some wildlife rescue groups use "sweaters" to protect penguins that have been exposed to oil spills. The garment initially keeps the bird from preening and ingesting more oil, then later, after the bird's been washed off, a new sweater keeps it warm until its feathers and natural oils recover.
Q: I keep hearing about penguins needing sweaters, but some people say it's a hoax. What gives?
A: They're thinking about different charities, and different stories. In 2011 there was a major knitting drive for penguin sweaters that resulted in more than 15,000 sweaters being made and donated. At the time, the the Tasmanian Conservation Trust asked people to stop making sweaters. Then a year or so ago, the website Jezebel accidentally revived the story, not realizing it was old and the demand had been met. This call for sweaters is different -- it's by the Penguin Foundation in Australia, and the sweaters' intent is a little different -- most of them will never be put on an actual penguin.