Thursday 23 June marks the 11th anniversary of the great swim by penguins, Percy and Pamela. They were amongst the birds that were under threat from spilt oil from The Treasure, a bulk ore carrier which went down between Robben Island and Dassen Island on the Cape West coast.
Disaster loomed for the seabirds and threatened 40% of the world’s African Penguin population. In a massive operation, more than 40,000 penguins were rescued, some for cleaning and rehabilitation and some to be temporarily relocated. Uncontaminated penguins (19 000 of them) were removed from Dassen Island and transported to the Eastern Cape coast where they were released. By the time they swam the 800 kilometre journey back home, the threat should be over.
Some were radio tagged to monitor their progress and most notable were Percy, Pamela and Peter. Pamela gorged herself with the plentiful supply of sardines off the Port Elizabeth coast and was probably too full for a speedy journey. Peter, on the other hand, took off at great speed for home and was the first to arrive back at Robben Island on the 18 July 2000. Percy swam through shark-infested waters and unfamiliar territory and waddled back onto his beach on 27 July and Pamela trundled in a few days later.
Earthwatch tells this story on their website and their scientist Les Underhill, says ”As a result of rehabilitation programmes, like the one that saved Pamela, Percy, and Peter, the South African penguin population is 19% larger that it would have been without our efforts.”