12 March 2011

On-the-spot dry cleaning for oiled penguins

Little penguin on Phillip Island.
Photo by Marcus Frieze.
Some rights reserved.
AUSTRALIA - Humans often get their tuxedos dry cleaned and now penguins can too! Researchers John Orbell from Victoria University and Peter Dann from Phillip Island Nature Parks have found a way of "dry cleaning" oiled penguins which they have been successfully testing on little penguins on Phillip Island, Victoria.

Oil is a major problem for penguins worldwide and cleaning oiled birds is a tricky business. The problem, Dr Dann told The Sydney Morning Herald, is that rubbing the detergent through the feathers disrupts the feather structure, which is actually what makes them waterproof. "It can take weeks or months until they can get their feathers back to a condition where they are waterproof.''

The new technique, on the other hand, leaves the feather structure intact. It involves sprinkling the penguin with an iron powder that absorbs the oil. The powder is then removed from the bird with a magnet. What makes it even better is that the oil and the iron powder can be separated and the powder reused.

Dr Dann said the aim was to clean the penguins on the spot as they returned to shore, since moving the birds to another location to clean them was more disruptive.

The method can be used on seals and sea otters as well as seabirds.

Phillip Island Nature Parks has declared March "Penguin Month" in celebration of its famous penguin parade's 80th anniversary. There will be special Penguin Month activities, tours and events, so if you are in Victoria this month I suggest you make your way to Phillip Island!

Science dusts of penguins for 80th birthday by Bridie Smith, 4 March 2011, The Sydney Morning Herald

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