Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

“When did penguins first wear sweaters?”

Image from Grist

Loyal Readers, I have done my best to shield you from the crazy, but I can hide it no longer.

This week, I have been haunted by penguins in little woolen sweaters.

It all started innocently enough, when steampunk author Gail Carriger linked to this feel good story about knitters plying their trade to help unusually adorable penguins survive the New Zealand oil spill on her Facebook page.

Little did I know what would happen next.

From that moment on, pictures of penguins in perfectly tailored wool sweaters have popped up everywhere.

And I mean everywhere — not simply on the Web, where one is prepared to encounter such things. You expect this sort of thing from Boing Boing, after all. And though I was surprised to see Andrew Sullivan discuss the topic on his blog, who am I to judge? There’s even a Wikipedia entry about it. A clear indication, if any were really needed, that the topic of penguin-wear has gone mainstream.

Of course, that’s the Web for you.

No, what really threw me over the edge was seeing the penguin in the mint green turtleneck pop up in the library book The Four-Year-Old checked out this week.

(It’s on page 45 of 100 Things You Should Know about Polar Lands by Steve Parker, in case you want to see it for yourself.) The kicker is that the book was printed in 2008, so apparently this is a fashion trend with legs, so to speak.

Which of course leads to the question, when did penguins first wear sweaters?

As far as I can tell, the idea originated after the Tasmanian oil spill in 2000. Apparently, some penguins are too sick to have the toxic oils cleaned off them right away. Donning a wool sweater keeps the penguins from preening themselves and ingesting the poisonous oil from the spill while they wait for their Dawn bath.

Back in 2001, after the immediate crisis of the spill was past, the Tasmanian Conservation Trust decided to stockpile a few sweaters so that they would have some on hand when the next spill happens.

This time when the appeal went out, the request went viral (obviously). Thousands of sweaters have been knitted and mailed to Tasmania by crafters around the world. So many that Skeinz, the yarn store organizing the drive, has been completely overwhelmed, and is now searching for ways to best use the surplus.

The Tasmanian Conservation Project confirms that with 15,000 jumpers collected, the Penguin Jumpers Project is now closed. (Extras will be stored in Oil Spill Response Kits around Tasmania.)

While I’m glad that no penguin in need will have to go without this holiday season, I admit to being a little sad that I can’t knit a penguin sweater of my own.

Oh well, I suppose I could try my hand at knitting capes for chickens.

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