Want to Knit a Sweater for a Penguin?

Knitted sweaters keep penguins from ingesting oil that has coated their bodies following an oil spill. (Photo: kateetc/Shutterstock)

We think of sweaters as cozy and comfy ways to stay warm in chilly temperatures. Penguins think of sweaters as ways to stay safe after oil spills. At least that's the idea behind wrapping penguins in knitted sweaters and jumpers.

The Penguin Foundation, an Australian charity that raises money to protect and conserve the environment of Phillips Island, started dressing the island's tiny penguins in knitted sweaters following an oil spill in 1998. When penguins are dirty, like perhaps coated in oil, they preen themselves clean. This process involves penguins fluffing and separating feathers with their beaks, and if they're coated with oil, then they're going to ingest some of the petrol in the process.

Enter the sweaters.

The Penguin Foundation started the Knits for Nature program following a number of spills that occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They enlisted knitters from all over the world to crafted sweaters for the penguins. The sweaters, apart from looking adorable, were intended to stop the penguins from ingesting any oil that had coated their bodies. If they can't preen, then they can't ingest the oil, thus upping the chances of the penguins' survival. The sweaters, which are 100 percent wool, are also intended to keep the penguins warm since the oil impairs the birds' natural thermoregulation. So the sweaters are both stylish and practical.

Sweaters that still do some good

Almost 20 years later, the Penguin Foundation has "tens of thousands" of these little sweater more than they'll hopefully ever need when it comes to saving penguins in the event of an oil spill (or even multiple oil spills). As a result, the foundation doesn't use any sweaters it receives for penguins any longer. Instead, the sweaters are draped over plush toy penguins that the foundation gives away with certain donations and as auction items during fundraisers. All the money raised is used by the foundation.

The excess sweaters are also shipped to other rescue centers if they're needed, and the foundation uses the sweaters to educate children visitors to the center about conservation and rehabilitation efforts.

While the Penguin Foundation isn't using new sweaters, you can still email them for the pattern and send one along to them. It may be used to give a penguin toy a little extra pizzaz!