Penguins In Tiny Sweaters Is Cool Enough—But the Man Who Knit Them Is Equally Incredible

Australia’s oldest citizen has been helping out birds affected by oil spills.

Penguins in this photo are not real. (Photo: Youtube)

Feb 11, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

News of oil spills wreaking havoc on wildlife is enough to make people throw their fists in the air and question their faith in humanity—but they’d be glad to hear about one centenarian from Down Under.

Alfred Date, 109, has been knitting sweaters and scarves for friends and family for 80 years. Last year, he began making sweaters for some new clients: penguins affected by oil spills in Australia.

The Penguin Foundation put out a plea for sweaters to be used for oiled penguins being treated at the wildlife clinic of Phillip Island Nature Parks. About 32,000 of the birds live on Phillip Island, where oil spills are not uncommon.

“The [nurses] who used to work for me—they’ll tell you I’m a sucker,” Date told Nine MSN. “I can’t say no.”

Alfred Dates, 109 (Photo: Nine MSN)

According to researchers from the clinic, the sweaters prevent the birds from cleaning themselves and swallowing toxic oil before rescuers could wash them. The wool of the sweaters also absorbs some of the toxins. The clinic started using sweaters on penguins in 1998 and has since refined and provided donators a knitting pattern that doesn’t ruin the feathers or get tangled from beaks and flippers. To prevent contamination, the knitwear isn’t reused.

Oil the size of a thumbnail could kill a tiny penguin, according to the Penguin Foundation. Back in 2001, the clinic admitted 438 penguins affected by a major oil spill near the island and was able to release most of them back into the wild. From 2012 to 2013, penguins accounted for a quarter of the 582 native wildlife rescued by the clinic’s staff for various causes.

Date lives in a nursing home in Australia’s Central Coast. After hearing about the Penguin Foundation’s call last year, the nurses provided him with heavy wool—“If you’re using light wool, you’re wasting your time,” he told Nine MSN—so he could start knitting.

The senior citizen wasn’t alone. The foundation received so many avian knitwear that it has since stopped accepting them. (These days, according to Mashable, Date has moved on to knitting scarves and beanies for friends and premature babies.) Still, he was exceptional.

“We knew he was over 100 years but had no idea he was declared the oldest person in Australia,” the foundation’s Danene Jones told Nine MSN. “It’s amazing, and we feel quite privileged to have him dedicating his time and effort to the Penguin Foundation.”