Australia’s fairy penguins are already naturally cute, so why are so many of them wearing tiny knit sweaters these days?

It’s more than just a fashion statement. Conservation group Penguin Foundation has been dressing the birds in pullovers while rehabilitating them from oil leaks. When oil from a spill or boat leak gets on a penguin’s feathers, it breaks down their natural waterproofing and insulating properties. Penguins instinctively pick at the oil with their beaks in an effort to remove it, which only makes things worse. They need their thick coat of feathers to keep warm and dry in cold waters, so even a small amount of oil can cause serious problems.

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Wearing a knit pullover can keep penguins warm until they’re ready to be released back into the wild, and creates a barrier to prevent them from picking at their feathers and ingesting oil. However, some organizations feel that knit pullovers are not always the best choice.

According to the International Bird Rescue, pullovers may impair evaporation “of the armoatics put off by the oil” and may also add to penguins’ stress. The International Bird Rescue suggests that the birds be kept in a warm, ventilated area instead to help them stay warm and limit preening.

Still, it seems as though sweaters may help certain penguins, like the 438 birds the Penguin Foundation helped after an oil spill in 2001.

Foundation receptionist Lyn Blom, who has personally knit many penguin sweaters, told ABC News that the group currently rehabilitates about 20 penguins a year.

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The Foundation is always looking for sweater donations, and they’re quick to make (they’re for little penguins, not Emperor Penguins, after all). If you’d like to make your own penguin pullover, follow this knitting pattern and send the finished garment to:

Knits for Nature
Phillip Island Nature Parks
Reply Paid 97
Cowes
Victoria 3922
Australia

Any leftover sweaters will be shared with rescue groups who need them.

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