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Penguins: Popularity, peril and poop - Dyan deNapoli


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Penguins are odd birds. For one, they cannot fly (but they are amazing swimmers), and, contrary to popular belief, the majority of penguin populations live in warmer regions. But these beloved birds are in danger, with populations declining up to 90%. Dyan deNapoli explains the reasons behind the decline -- and why penguins are like the proverbial canary in the coal mine of our oceans.

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Penguin Conservation Efforts – oiled bird and abandoned chick rescue:

Penguins have long been impacted by various human activities, and because they are flightless birds, they are particularly vulnerable to oil spills (They cannot fly over an oil slick to escape it). There have been many oil spills that have harmed penguins, but one in particular was unparalleled in its size and scope. On June 23, 2000, an iron-ore tanker named the MV Treasure sank off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, leading to the dramatic rescue of 40,000 African penguins, half of which were covered with oil. These 20,000 birds were brought to a massive warehouse, where 125 experts and 12,500 volunteers fed, cleaned and cared for them for more than two months until they were ready to be released. The other 20,000 penguins were removed from their breeding islands just before the oil hit and were trucked 500 miles up the coast, where they were released into the clean ocean waters and allowed to swim back home to their breeding islands. Fortunately, this untested strategy worked - and though rescuers initially doubted they could save most of the penguins, ultimately 95% of them were returned to the wild. The Treasure oil spill rescue effort still stands as the largest and most successful animal rescue ever undertaken. Dyan deNapoli worked as a rehabilitation manager during this historic rescue – watch her TEDx talk about this remarkable event.
You can learn much more about this incredible story by reading The Great Penguin Rescue, Dyan’s award-winning book about the Treasure oil spill. The book features an appendix with information about dozens of penguin rescue, research, and conservation centers located around the globe, and includes donation links to each one (DeNapoli donates 20% of her proceeds to these organizations).
The seabird rescue center that oversaw this massive rescue is SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds). In the years since the Treasure oil spill, SANCCOB has been hand-rearing abandoned African penguin chicks as part of a Chick Bolstering Project in hopes of saving this Endangered species from their projected extinction date of 2020. The number of African penguins has plummeted over the last few decades, and the population today is a fraction of what it was just 10 years ago. It is hoped that the population can be boosted and the species saved through a variety of efforts, including the Chick Bolstering Project. Learn more about (to support) this important conservation program.
Another major oil spill that impacted penguins was the MV Oliva oil spill, which occurred on March 16, 2011 at Nightingale Island, in the middle of the Southern Atlantic Ocean. Tens of thousands of Endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins were oiled, and due to the extremely remote location of these islands, it was weeks before a small experienced team of rescuers could arrive from South Africa to help. The team included SANCCOB staff, and others who had overseen the rescue mission during the Treasure oil spill in Cape Town eleven years earlier. Despite their best efforts, most of the Rockhopper penguins perished due to the length of time they were oiled before being cleaned, and due to the lack of proper resources and manpower (the island is home to just 235 people). Dr. David Guggenheim - the Ocean Doctor - just happened to be visiting the island when the oil slick hit. He blogged about it, and has since released a short documentary film about the Oliva oil spill: information about the Oliva oil spill and the film; The Ocean Doctor’s blog posts about the Oliva oil spill; The Ocean Doctor’s radio program about the Oliva and Treasure oil spills (including an interview with deNapoli about the latter oil spill).
Penguins and Global Warming:
Global warming is the number one threat to penguins today, and it is affecting different penguin species in different ways. For an excellent article about the various ways that climate change is impacting penguin populations, visit:
The Penguin Science website, brought to you by renowned penguin researchers in Antarctica, has very detailed information about how global warming is affecting the penguins that live in Antarctica:
Penguin Conservation – learn more:
Penguins are an important indicator species, alerting us to the health of our oceans and the environment. Listen to a fascinating TED talk about penguins as ocean sentinels by renowned penguin expert and field researcher Dr. Dee Boersma.
This PEW website has a great interactive infographic about the different threats to each of the 18 penguin species.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Dyan deNapoli
  • Producer Zedem Media
  • Director Michael Kalopaidis
  • Artist Dinos Hadjidemetri
  • Animator Maria Savva
  • Sound Designer Manolis Manoli
  • Narrator Dyan deNapoli

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