In April 1968, a massive crude oil spill from the tanker, Esso Essen covered thousands of the Cape’s seabirds in oil. Among those rescued by caring bird lovers, was one with a tag number 640. After a good cleaning and some medicines, Number 640 was released into the wild, but 10 days later he walked into a lady’s garage near Blouberg Beach. He was taken away and found to be perfectly healthy and released again into the ocean. A week later, a different lady living in Blouberg called to say she had been followed home from the beach by a penguin. He had a ring with the number 640. Sometime around this time the penguin gained the name Gregory Peck, and was once again released into the wild. This time he was taken far into the bay and deposited on Robben Island.
Sure enough, four days later he came back, walked out of the sea and this time accompanied two poodles home. The owner found the dogs and penguin sitting patiently in the garden waiting for food. No amount of shooing would make the bird go away and when she opened the door, dogs and penguin came in and settled themselves beside the stove.
Gregory Peck became a five-minute celebrity, and there seemed only one thing to do – to return him to his adopted home with the original carers. They used him to train new volunteers how to handle penguins and he loved all the attention. Then, in about November a change happened, he started moulting his thick baby coat, started eating more and gaining weight. Gregory Peck was going through puberty. After a few months his owners woke to the sound of frantic braying, in the strange donkey-like way of these penguins. It became apparent that he was in a courtship dance, but Gregory was the one being courted. It turned out that Gregory was not a He, but a She. She had found love, and together with her companion, they were released off Dassen Island and swam away together, never to be seen again.
Volunteer at SANCOB, a non-profit seabird rehabilitation centre.