Environmentalist Hackers to the Rescue

Oil-slicked fairy penguins get help from fairy god geeks in Linux community.

Back at the beginning of the month, penguin-loving members of the Linux community were horrified to hear the news of an alleged oil dumping off the coast of Australia that swamped more than 100 fairy penguins.

The fairy penguins, so called because they stand only a few inches off the ground, lived in the area of Phillip Island Nature Park and were taken to a nearby animal hospital for treatment. At the time of this writing, six fairy penguins had died. In order to keep the penguins from preening their contaminated feathers--and thereby ingesting toxic oil--the rescuers washed the birds and placed them in specially made woolen sweaters.

As bad as the oil dump was, officials and environmentalists note that it could have been much worse. Ray Leivers, general manager of the Phillip Island Nature Park, said that the oil slick barely missed the island's main penguin habitat where there are "thousands" of penguin nests.

Editorial assistant Jason Schumaker spoke with Dr. Roz Jessop of the Phillip Island Nature Park Research Department, and Tony Hood, Business Manager, about the spill, the rescue effort and the response from the Linux community.

Jason: What caused the oil spill, and where exactly was it located?

Roz: We think that the oil was bunker oil discharged from a ship in Bass Straight close to shore. The Federal Police and Environmental Protection Agency and Australia Maritime Safety Authority are making further investigations.

Jason: What is being done to protect/help the penguins?

Roz: We are campaigning to have all ships clean their bunkers out in port.

Jason: I have heard something in regards to penguins wearing sweaters. What is this all about?

Roz: Penguins are wearing sweaters to prevent them preening oil from their feathers. If birds ingest oil, it irritates their stomach lining and damages their liver. Sweaters also help keep the penguins warm, as their natural insulation does not work when their down feathers are soaked in oil.

Jason: And what has been the reaction from the Linux community? Are we the only people to contact you?

Tony: We knew that someone was interested in the oil spill when the penguin Web site registered 20,000 visitors before breakfast! We usually only receive around 1,000 per day. This interest can be directly related to the Linux community as the referring servers were /.com and dimbolo.com, home of Linux communities. Once our webmaster noted the hits and the inquiries for donations, a server area for donations was placed on-line. Again, Linux users from Alaska to Melbourne rallied to the cause--it looks like up to $5,000 may be raised with support ranges from $2 to $500! The response has been surprising particularly as we had received patchy support from the general community.


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