PaperBackSwap Blog

Non-Fiction Review – The Great Penguin Rescue

The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill, and the Inspiring Story of the World’s Largest Animal Rescue  by Dyan deNapoli

Review by jjares


Disaster struck the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, on June 23, 2000, when the ship MV Treasure foundered. By pouring 1,300 tons of oil into the ocean and shore, the spill contaminated the habitat of 41% of the world’s population of African penguins. This is how local and world conservationists called for volunteers to save the oiled and traumatized penguins. Incredibly, over 12,500 volunteers came to South Africa, hoping to save the penguins.


This is the first-person story of Dyan deNapoli and the rush to save the penguins. Sometimes Dyan veered off the path to tell her own story, but generally, she told the daily activities of the work done. She also gave credit to grocery stores (who created imaginative ways to donate money to the penguin work), restaurants (donating prepared foods for the workers), hotels (low-cost rooms), and airlines (half-price flights). It showed that the world could step up and help the penguins and workers in many ways.


The description of the first day, when the workers saw the extent of their task, is particularly poignant. Penguins usually are constantly “talking” or moving around. The 19,000 oiled birds were silent and stunned (in one place). Twenty-thousand other penguins (that had not been oiled) had to be moved to new habitats, that were not oil-drenched.  The author’s descriptions of how hard it was to get the birds de-oiled were stunning. They worked 16-hour days for weeks without stopping for meals. She comments that everyone lost 10 – 20 lbs.


A surprise was learning that the birds needed more than to be de-oiled. They also needed to be fed (an arduous task), tested and medicated, watched for illnesses, checked that the penguin’s feathers regained their waterproof status, reintroduced to swimming, and so much more. Then, the penguins were tagged and transported to the water, so the penguins could swim to their habitat.


With a few exceptions, this was an enthralling story of people coming together to save a species from extinction. The fact that they cleaned and rehabilitated 19,000 birds in less than three months is a tribute to the honest concern of thousands of people working together. I learned so much about these birds, their biology, habitat, and the studies done after the cleaning of the birds. It was amazing how well the penguins returned to life as usual and continued to breed new chicks.


There have been many studies done about how the birds were impacted. The best result was that, when another oil slick came to the same area, the penguins were less traumatized and responded as if they remembered the human’s intervention before. The story of how many days the penguins took to swim back to their breeding grounds was moving.


This is an inspiring story of how people can gather together and do something remarkable, if only they try. — 4.5 stars


Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply