The Greatest Bird Rescue Ever

Thousands volunteered to help oiled penguins.

This story comes to you through a partnership between Audubon and BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.


On June 23, 2000, an enormous iron ore tanker sank off the coast of South Africa, between Robben and Dassen Islands. 

The islands are critical nesting sites for African penguins, also known as jackass penguins for their loud, braying voices.

Fuel from the tanker covered 19,000 adult penguins in oil--right at the peak of their breeding season. Word of the birds’ predicament spread quickly. Tens of thousands of people arrived to volunteer their help. The oiled penguins were removed to an abandoned warehouse in Cape Town to be cleaned and cared for. Another 19,500 penguins that had so far escaped the oil were taken from Dassen Island and released at sea, over 600 miles to the east. 

It took the penguins released at sea nearly three weeks to swim back home, allowing workers time to clean up the oil-fouled waters and beaches. The entire rescue effort lasted over three months, and saved more than 91% of the oiled penguins.

You can learn more about one of the greatest bird rescues ever--and about other bird conservation efforts--at our website, I’m Michael Stein.

Call of the African “Jackass” Penguin [904] provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by T. Smith; ambient by Kessler Productions. Producer: John Kessler; Executive Producer: Chris Peterson; © 2013 Tune In to; June 2013 Narrator: Michael Stein

BirdNote - The Greatest Bird Rescue Ever [nid:150936]

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