Would You Knit a Penguin a Sweater?

Though penguins are most commonly associated with tuxedos, there’s currently an effort to dress up some of these birds in sweaters. No, it’s not just a change of wardrobe – the Penguin Foundation uses the sweaters to help rehabilitate some of the birds it rescues.

The outfits are designed specifically for penguins that have had the misfortune of being caught in an oil spill. When a penguin gets coated in oil, it will try to preen the oil away, accidentally consuming the toxic material in the process. By placing a sweater over a penguin’s body, the wildlife group is preventing it from being able to pick at its own body. Sometimes the sweaters are reused on the penguins even after the oil has been thoroughly removed — this time for warmth until the penguin’s feathers and natural oils have mended.

If this plan sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Three years ago, a different organization made a similar request for penguin sweaters, and the knitters of the world responded in kind. However, this isn’t an example of a dated news story getting revived unnecessarily — the Penguin Foundation really did put out a new call for knit pullovers this week.

Some animal activists have been critical of this tactic, however. They worry that dressing the penguins up could be more detrimental than beneficial. Certainly, it is stressful enough for wild penguins to be coated in oil, and more stressful still to be handled by humans; stifling them in an unfamiliar sweater might only add to the stress. There is additional concern that the penguins could overheat while wearing the sweaters.

With this latest call for penguin sweaters garnering international attention, it seems likely that they will receive more penguin pullovers than necessary. Last time, the penguin rehab facility used the extras to dress up stuffed penguin toys and sold them to the public to raise money for the organization. That way, even if the outfits weren’t worn by the real penguins themselves, at least the knitters could take comfort in knowing that their efforts benefitted the wellbeing of the penguins and that someone was enjoying their handiwork.

This time around, the Penguin Foundation is aware of the influx of sweaters it will receive and is already planning to use the vast majority of them for fundraising efforts.

Fear not! If you love animals and you love knitting, there are still other, less publicized causes that could use your talents instead:

  • The Snuggles Project provides home-knit blankets and comfort items to animals at shelters.
  • Pawsitive Knits creates cute knit toys for newborn, homeless kittens in Dublin waiting to be adopted.
  • Humans may not always be as outright adorable as animals, but they could use your assistance, too. Knit ‘n Style has a long list of charities that accepts knitted donations for people like veterans, the homeless, cancer patients, kids and individuals in war-torn countries.

Photo Credit: Penguin Foundation Facebook page


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Oleg Kobetz
Oleg Kobets3 years ago

thank you

Arlene C.
Arlene C3 years ago

j'ai apprécié les commentaires des membres,

Diane L.
Diane L3 years ago

Thank you for the explanation, Julie. However, that information actually makes even less sense to "knit a sweater for a penguin" if they have more than enough already, not to mention that they're put on the birds "to prevent them from grooming themselves" while in "rehab". If the birds are covered in oil, then seems to me the prudent thing to do would be to remove the oil by bathing/cleaning them with a detergent such as DAWN. The birds would then be oil free and there would be no reason to have to prevent them from grooming themselves, period. I know for a fact that Dawn works, and it is what was used to clean the seabirds in the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. I've used it on a cat that laid in a puddle of oil under my truck when a seal was leaking and the truck was parked in the garage. She is long haired and WAS an outside cat, but I found her in my barn, sleeping in my horse's grain feeder and she was a MESS! I bathed her in the kitchen sink, using DAWN and it removed ALL the oil and it took only one bath to do it. Plus side is it also kills fleas instantly.

Julie Cordner
Julie Cordner3 years ago

A little bit more info might be needed with this story. The jumpers are used for penguins who are 'in rehab' (preventing them from grooming themselves and ingesting the oil) - thus they are not then let out to go swimming in the jumpers...as if! Also, there is an adequate supply of jumpers currently at the Phillip Island Centre (in Victoria, Australia) where this story started (in fact staff advise there are 40,00 in storage, readily available for local or overseas use) and the Centre says it currently only assists about 20 Little Penguins a year who get 'oiled'. (It's not only big ships who are the culprits; fishermen who clean a container at sea add to the issue.) HOWEVER, there are, as the story intimates, many other worthy organisations which need knitted items to help animals (as well as humans) around the world. If you love knitting, search around for somewhere near you which needs help.

Cynthia  AWAY B.
cynthia l3 years ago

Thanks for this info

Jeff S.
Jeff S.3 years ago

I would, yes.

Theresa Robinson
Theresa Robinson3 years ago


Diane L.
Diane L3 years ago

"This is great. It's not cruel, it's lifesaving!"............lifesaving, Manuela? May I ask you how well you think you could swim wearing a heavy knitted ZUTE SUIT if you fell overboard in a cold lake? Think about it carefully. Penguins are not affected by the cold because they have thick oily skin under their feathers, and the "theory" here is that when exposed to oil from spills, then they must be cleaned with soaps and detergents. That would be true and most of the time, Dawn is used. However, it doesn't necessarily remove their natural oils, just the synthetic petroleum that is coating their feathers! Unless those penguins are then kept in a shelter and hand-fed, they will die of starvation because they will be rendered incapable of fending for themselves.