Nightly News   |  October 22, 2011

The penguins' new clothes

Penguins rescued after an oil spill off the coast of New Zealand are donning hand-knitted sweaters to keep them from preening their feathers and swallowing the oil. NBC's Annabel Roberts reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

LESTER HOLT, anchor: Our final story tonight elicited lots of smiles and puns about knitting when we talked it over in our editorial meeting this afternoon, but you can hardly blame us. It's a story about little penguins threatened by an oil spill and being saved by an army of good-hearted folks who are knitting them sweaters. And if I may, it's a very good yarn, as told by NBC 's Annabel Roberts .

ANNABEL ROBERTS reporting: These little Blue Penguins have been rescued following an oil spill off the coast of New Zealand two weeks ago. Hundreds of birds have been scrubbed in hot water to remove the oil. But they've also had something unusual to help them pull though, hand-knitted sweaters like these lovingly made by knitters from around the world. They stop the birds preening their feathers and swallowing oil, which could poison them.

Mr. GARY ZAMMIT (Wildlife Expert): It's tried and tested that it actually does work. The big problem for any seabird is that when they start to preen, they ingest the oil, which is toxic.

ROBERTS: Scientists are searching New Zealand 's beaches for birds at risk.

Ms. JULIA GRAHAM (Penguin Expert): He's getting oil under his flippers and all over his feet and he's got some on his head. Left like that, it's kind of like hypothermia. They lose all their body heat and, you know, they're not waterproof anymore.

ROBERTS: An army of knitters has responded to a call for sweaters. A local wool shop, Behind the Skein , has been sent hundreds. The shop's website gives precise instructions as to size, number of stitches and width of elastic for top and bottom, and makes the important point, remember two openings for flippers when stitching up the sides. No doubt New Zealanders have a soft spot for penguins, and who can blame them? Remember Happy Feet , the emperor penguin named after the movie hero?

ROBERTS: Washed up on a beach almost 2,000 miles from home, the only penguin with a website and quarter of a million followers as well as a Twitter account. He was nursed back to health, given a transmitter and released to swim back to his Antarctic colony. The little Blue Penguins will also return to the wild. This is where they now swim to regain their strength before heading home.

ROBERTS: So this penguin was a dancer, but the latest stars reach out to a different group, the fashionistas, who will surely now want this brightly colored knitwear for their winter wardrobe. Annabel Roberts, NBC News, London.