Little lost penguins

| Staff Columnist

About 8:30 a.m. yesterday I made the mistake of looking at the news before heading off to my calculus class.

Well, I guess I should say I made two mistakes: first of all, I actually woke up for Calculus I for Life, Social, and Managerial Sciences, which, though refreshingly straightforward, is refreshingly straightforward at 9 a.m. Attendance is, shall we say, optional. Second, I decided to try to keep up with the world and actually read today’s headlines on cnn.com.

I should know better by now, I really should, but it’s like an addiction: I have to have my trashy, badly titled, not-real-news news stories. Keep your New York Times; I love (hate) CNN.

That morning, what drew my eye was a story about a group of little lost penguins being rescued and flown back to their natural habitat in Brazil. That these lost penguins constituted a major, top-10 news headline for CNN yesterday morning I think speaks well to the not-real-news point above, but for the moment let us leave that to look at the story.

The story is this: over the summer a group of more than 1,600 Magellanic penguins washed up on shore hundreds of miles from where they were supposed to be, all sick and starving, having gotten lost in their search for food. Of those penguins, 373 were recently loaded into a cargo plane, flown back down to where they were supposed to be, and released into the wild. A touching, feel-good, human (penguin?) interest story—what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is that the article, billing itself as a feel-good human interest story, fails to adequately acknowledge that 400 penguins are still being nursed back to health and are not yet ready to be released, and that somewhere around 800 penguins have already died. The release of only 373 penguins is, in that context, actually kind of the opposite of happy/feel-good. It’s actually kind of depressing.

Perhaps I am being overly-sensitive. I understand that death is a natural part of the animal world, and that in any first migration (these lost penguins were on their first) a large portion of the animals won’t make it home. I get it, it’s sad but natural, so sure, having half the penguins be still alive, and of those having half completely restored to health, is great. Yay, circle of life!

The problem is, there was nothing natural about this migration, and therefore there was nothing natural about all those penguins’ deaths. It’s not the circle of life, it’s not us saving penguins; it’s us covering our tracks after having put them in danger in the first place.

As it was explained to me by a zookeeper at the St. Louis zoo, the penguins in all likelihood got lost because their habitat is messed up. Over-fishing is depleting their food, so they’re getting lost searching for it, and global warming/the melting of ice caps is causing changes to underwater currents, so penguins are ending up in places they shouldn’t be, where they are ill-equipped to survive.

Because I love penguins, and because I’m generally opposed to us destroying the environment, I find this upsetting. I am also deeply disappointed that the article didn’t do a better job of showing the big picture—why the penguins got lost, and why things like that are going to keep happening, with greater and greater frequency.

Two weeks ago I spent my afternoon on a private zoo tour, playing with a Magellanic penguin named Fidget who tried to court me (and everything around him). I pet him, he sang, my boyfriend got jealous, and the zookeeper explained about Brazil.

Eight hundred adorable, tiny, helpless little penguins just like Fidget died all at once because of SUVs and oil.

Next time I go to fill my gas tank, instead of thinking about the price of gas, I’m going to think about Fidget and his 1,600 little lost friends. I hope you do, too.

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