These penguins are covered in oil.
Imagine you are an African penguin. The year is 2000. You live on an island in the South Atlantic Ocean. You are with thousands of other penguins on a rocky beach. Even though it’s June, it’s cold and windy. All around you are penguin noises: barks and honks. Some of your penguin friends fight for their space. Others cuddle with their partners and take care of their chicks.
You’re hungry, so you head down to the water’s edge. You waddle on tiny feet. Your wings are too stubby for flying. But in the water, you can swim faster and dive deeper than almost any bird on Earth. After you plunge into the sea, you shoot through the water, just a black-and-white blur. You snatch sardines near the surface. Your thick feathers protect you from the freezing water.
You stay in the sea for hours until your belly is full of sardines. Then you head back to shore.
That’s when something goes wrong.
As you come to the surface for air, the water feels strange. It is thick. It stings your eyes. You try to swim away, but now your wings are too heavy to lift. You can barely catch your breath.
What you don’t know is that just hours ago, a ship called Treasure hit a reef and split apart. As it sank, 1,300 tons of oil gushed into the sea. Thousands of penguins have been soaked with the poisonous oil.