Archive: The "Treasure" Oil Spill, June 2000

The Stories of P(i)eter Penguin

Pieter goes to SANCCOB

Once upon a time, there was a penguin called Pieter. Pieter lived in South Africa and he loved to swim, swim, swim in the sea all day long. One day, when Pieter was out swimming, he suddenly saw the water turn black. His feathers began to get very wet and he swam as fast as his little flippers could carry him to the shore. There stood Pieter on the beach looking very forlorn, his feathers covered in thick, black oil. He couldn't go swimming in the sea or eat his favourite food which was lots and lots of fish. As luck would have it, a passing ornithologist, who was out for the afternoon ornithologizing, saw Pieter and took pity on him. 'What a sad-looking little penguin,' he thought, 'I'll take him home with me and look after him.' So the ornithologist tried to pick Pieter up. Pieter was very frightened because he didn't know that the ornithologist only wanted to help him, but he felt too tired and ill to put up much of a struggle. However, with a well-aimed lunge he just managed to sever a major artery in the ornithologist's wrist. Fortunately, another ornithologist happened along and put Pieter in a box and took him to Cape Town where the nice people at SANCCOB took care of him. They gave Pieter a thorough wash and scrub and got all of the nasty oil out of his feathers. They also gave him lots of his favourite fish to eat. Pieter loved pilchards. He also liked the funny things with which they gave him the fish, because when he bit on them they made a strange noise which sounded like: 'Aaagh, the little X!@#$*X tried to bite my <*?%$#@ finger off!'

Pieter was soon able to swim again and his nice clean feathers gleamed in the sunlight. But then two big men arrived, one brandishing a pair of pliers, to catch him. Pieter was very frightened and tried to get away but it was no good. He was caught. Pieter thought they were going to yank his flipper off, but the men only wanted to put a metal band on it. Pieter was very proud of his nice, shiny metal band which had his very own number on it. He thought that the men were very kind really and said 'thank you' by biting off the end of one man's nose. Pieter was confused by all the fuss and noise that followed. Everybody ran about shouting and soon a big white vehicle with 'Ambulance' written on it arrived, and took the man away.

Soon came the time for Pieter to leave. He was taken with lots of other penguins to a sandy beach where he was released. He could go and swim in the sea again and eat as many fish as he wanted. Next day he was back home again on Robben Island, ready for his next adventure.


In our next story, Pieter gets stomach pumped and partially disembowels a research biologist.

Sven Iscus & Dee Mersus
Institute of Penguinology

Originally published in Bird Numbers, December 1995.
© Animal Demography Unit, UCT.

The further adventures of Pieter the Penguin

It was a warm, sunny day on Robben Island. Pieter the penguin was lazing on the beach, his eyes half closed and his belly full of fish. Occasionally, in the time-honoured tradition, he would nonchalantly lean across to peck a passing juvenile penguin. Some of the penguins began to move up the beach towards their nesting areas. Pieter wasn't nesting yet, but he decided to go with them and perhaps spend the night doing some serious braying.

As the penguins moved across the dirt road, Pieter couldn't help but notice an air of tension. Some of the penguins stopped, glancing around furtively. Pieter wasn't quite sure what it was ... and then he saw them. Biologists! In torn T-shirts, jeans, leather gloves and gum boots, they looked a mean gang of desperadoes.

The penguins made for the nearest cover, piling underneath the Rooikrans. They jostled for position and tempers became frayed. Pieter's neighbour nervously pecked him on the back of his head. Pieter moved away to be greeted in similar fashion by his neighbour on the other side. Meanwhile, they were being surrounded - the biologists closed in. Suddenly, Pieter felt a firm grip behind his head and around his feet, and a moment later he was doing something penguins aren't supposed to do - he was flying! He didn't seem to have much control over where he was going, but the ground was a couple of metres below him. He had visions of gracefully circling the island.

Unfortunately, his maiden flight looked destined to end in a plastic crate a few metres away. There were already a few penguins inside the crate and they raised their bills in readiness to greet him! Clonk! Down came the lid. Then the lid opened and daylight returned again. A penguin was removed from the crate and down came the lid once again. Minutes later the lid opened and another penguin was removed. They never came back! Then it was Pieter's turn.

Again, he was airborne, but this time very briefly. It would seem he had been summoned to the leader of the biologists, who wore his full regalia of bright-green oilskins, black rubber gloves and white gum boots. Pieter gulped; his life flashed before his eyes. What was coming next? His mother had never told him about this. Well, without going into details, with the aid of a plastic funnel and tube, a beaker of water and a bucket, Pieter and his food parted company.

Pieter last saw his meal being sealed up in a plastic bag, ready for analysis. Then the grip on his head and legs was released. He was free. He turned to bite the hand that released him, then ran as fast as his feet and flippers would carry him. Too late, he realized that his escape route was about to take him under a bush and past a nesting penguin. The irate bird gave Pieter a good pecking as he ran past.

Pieter stood under the bush for a while to calm his nerves and reflect upon his ordeal. It simply hadn't been his day! Eventually, he fell asleep and had a strange dream. He was one of a small group of giant penguins who had caught a biologist. Two of the huge Sphenisciiformes were dangling the biologist upside down over a bucket into which he duly deposited his lunch. 'There you are ...' exclaimed one of the penguins, '... we must be having an adverse effect on their natural food resources. Every sample is just full of beans and viennas!'

Pieter awoke. Dawn was breaking and the sun was slowly creeping above Bloubergstrand. His empty tum told Pieter that it was time to go back to sea. Hopefully today would be an uneventful one: just another day in paradise!

Jack S. Penguin and Albert Ross

Originally published in Bird Numbers, October 1996.
© Animal Demography Unit, UCT.

Pieter finds a mate

It was mid-morning on Robben Island and Pieter was feeling sleepy. He had been up all night, getting down to some serious 'braying'. The other penguins had gone out to sea for the day, but Pieter was just about fit to doze, when . . . . 'Hullo.' Pieter came to with a start. He turned to see a female penguin speaking to him. 'Er, hello' he replied nervously. 'You're Pieter aren't you?' enquired the female. 'Yes' he confirmed. 'I was just dozing off. I didn't get much sleep last night.' 'No, nor did I' said the female. 'Someone was making such an awful noise all night that I didn't catch a wink.' Pieter felt his cheeks turn to a pinker shade of black. He coughed a little and confessed 'Er, um, sorry, that was probably me', looking away as he did so. In so doing, he missed seeing the half smile on the female's face. 'What's your name?' asked Pieter. 'Razor' she replied. 'Razor?' he repeated. 'That's an unusual name. How did you come to be called that?' 'Have you ever seen a biologist?' asked Razor. Pieter shuddered. His stomach-pumping experience was still fresh in his memory. 'Yes' he said. 'Well next time you see one', continued Razor, 'take a look at their fingers. Then you'll understand why I'm called Razor!' Pieter grinned. He was taking a liking to this female! 'Are you paired yet?' she asked, knowing full well that he wasn't. Pieter was startled by her forwardness. 'Um, no, actually, not yet' he replied.

Well things took their course and before you could say Spheniscus demersus, Pieter found himself at the end of a burrow, sitting on two, white, ovoid objects, staring out at the daylight beyond the burrow entrance. What did Razor say? 'Sit on those eggs and don't shift until I come back!' Pieter sighed. When would that be? Suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by sounds from outside the burrow. Next thing Pieter knew, a horrible face appeared at the entrance and a stick came snaking towards him, sliding beneath his breast and gently lifting him up. 'Yep, two eggs' came from beyond the burrow. The stick slid away again. Pieter thought of making a break for it but decided he was better off staying put. The sounds faded away. He again heard footsteps outside the burrow: Razor was back. Pieter went out to greet her and tell her of his latest encounter with the biologists. His relief at seeing her turned to joy when he learnt that she would sit on the eggs all the next day while he went out to feed. Perhaps being paired wasn't so bad.

So it went until one day, on Pieter's return, he discovered that one of the eggs had disappeared. In its place, nestling beneath Razor's body, was a tiny, brown, fluffy chick. Before long, the other egg made the same transformation and in no time at all, the two chicks had grown into ravenous eating machines. Later, Pieter was again visited by the biologists. This time, a hand gingerly inched its way along the burrow towards him. Pieter noticed that it bore a blood soaked bandage around the wrist. 'Ah, I see you've met the wife then!' he quipped. The hand stopped. 'Er, two downies, adult present' came from above, and the hand quickly withdrew. 'Aren't we supposed to weigh them?' 'Phoow, probably still too young, I'd say.' 'Did you get the ring number then?' 'Hmmph. You try. That's one mean sunnofabitch in there . . . .' The sounds faded away.

The chicks continued to grow and their down gave way to a blue-grey first plumage. Pieter and Razor both left the burrow to forage during the day, to find enough food to satisfy their chicks' increasing appetites. Eventually, the job was complete. The chicks fledged and Pieter was quite ready to relinquish his parental duties. He wondered what Razor would do. 'See you back here next year' she said, before disappearing off to sea. 'OK' said Pieter, and with a warm inner feeling of achievement went to join a group of penguins lazing on the beach.

Frank o' Lin & Will o' Warbler
Toobey Shore

Originally published in Bird Numbers, February 1998.
© Animal Demography Unit, UCT.

Pieter goes on holiday


Just when you thought it was safe again to browse through the pages of Bird Numbers, he's back . . . . Pieter, the perverse penguin! It was a warm, December day and Pieter sat at the end of a burrow, gazing out at the world through the entrance hole. He and Razor had long since raised their chicks, but Pieter had nipped down a vacant burrow at the sight of a researcher working in the colony. Pieter was thinking how nice it would be to go away somewhere, but breeding penguins supposedly don't wander far from their breeding colonies. Mind you, that didn't seem to stop Razor from clearing off smartly after parental duties had ceased . . . .

Pieter's musings were interrupted by the sound of footsteps outside the burrow. He sighed and braced himself for the regulation show of defiance against the intruder. However, there was a soft 'plop' from above the burrow and the footsteps faded away again. After a few minutes, Pieter emerged cautiously from the burrow to investigate. Next to the burrow entrance was a small pile of papers. The top page began: 'Recent research by the Animal Demography Unit suggests that African Penguins wander far more widely than was previously realized. . . . ' 'Right,' thought Pieter, 'I'm off on me hols! Let's see; feather-tan lotion, "shades", beak-brush. Reckon that should do it. The question is, which way to go?' He ambled down to the shore. 'Eeny, meeny, miny . . . .' Pieter slipped into the water, stuck out a left flipper and proceeded southwards.

He swam alongside the Cape Peninsula, eventually rounding Cape Point, and made his way into False Bay. After a while, he noticed a collection of penguins around a rocky shore below some large buildings. He emerged from the water and wandered up a sandy beach.. A rather neat-looking penguin approached him, sporting a double black breast band. 'Excuse me sir, do you have a tie?', asked the penguin. 'A what?' replied Pieter, somewhat surprised. 'A tie, sir' the penguin repeated. 'We don't allow anyone into the colony without a tie, you know. This is the Boulders Penguin Colony and we don't take in any old riff-raff!'. Pieter was about to remonstrate when his gaze fell upon two large wooden structures at either end of the beach. He couldn't help but notice that they seemed to be packed with, what looked like to him, biologists. He'd only encountered them in ones and twos before, but here was a massive flock of them! 'Look out, biologists!' he yelled. 'I beg your pardon?' asked the smart-looking penguin. 'Biologists!' repeated Pieter, ' 'Undreds of 'em, run for it!' At which point he sped seawards on feet and flippers and before you could say Spheniscus de . . . 'sploosh', he was in the water and swimming for all he was worth. The smart-looking penguin straightened his plumage. 'Strange fellow' he thought, 'Oh well, I had better get back to looking cute for the tourists.'

Pieter found himself heading back towards Cape Point, and by the following day he was nearing Robben Island again. 'What now?' he thought. 'North, I suppose.' And he continued swimming along the West Coast. By afternoon the next day, he had the red-and-white tower of Dassen Island's lighthouse in view. 'Dassen, of course - the place to be seen!' he thought, and swam into House Bay and onto the beach. And there they all were. The penguin 'jet-set', 'hanging out' on the island's sandy beaches, flashing more expensive-looking flipper-bands around than you could poke a stick at. Pieter glanced proudly towards his flipper and his own shiny status symbol, kindly given to him as a memento of his visit to SANCCOB. Pieter lazed away the rest of the afternoon on the beach, ordering one sardine and anchovy cocktail after the next. As the sun began to sink, he wandered inland to look for a place to stay. Well this had to be the West Coast Hilton - they seemed to have more burrows than a rabbit warren! Pieter wandered into a choice-looking burrow with a sea view and settled in.

Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain in his rear quarters. He tried to move away but something was holding him back. He summoned up all his strength and managed to drag himself towards the burrow entrance and halfway into the open. At which point, he discovered the source of the pain: another penguin had its bill firmly clamped around Pieter's backside. Worse was to follow. As Pieter tried again to pull away, his assailant decided to play the drums on Pieter's flanks with his flippers. After much tumbling around and biting and 'flippering', Pieter finally broke free. 'Find yer own burrow!' his assailant yelled after him. 'Welcome to Dassen Island . . . .' thought Pieter.

Pieter hoped that no other penguins had noticed his undignified exit and wandered deeper into the vegetation. At a small clearing, he found an older, male penguin sitting outside a burrow. 'Er, evening' said Pieter. 'Evenin' matey' replied the older penguin. 'You, er, local are you?' asked Pieter. 'Yeah mate. Me an' the missus been 'ere for fifteen years now. I was born in that burrow there, mate.' He indicated the burrow with a sideways motion of the head. 'You new 'ere are yer?' 'Just visiting', said Pieter. 'Well, welcome to Dassen, mate' said his companion. 'You got a place to stay yet?' 'Not yet' said Pieter, glancing towards the throbbing lump on his hind quarters. 'Can you recommend anywhere?' 'You can 'ave the spare burrow if you want, mate. I ain't using it much at the moment, apart from gettin' away from the missus for forty winks in the afternoon.' 'Well, if you're sure it's OK,' said Pieter. 'Yeah, it's no problem, mate. Course yer'll 'ave to excuse the mess. Aint cleaned it out for a while. I'll show yer.' The older penguin rose gingerly to his feet and waddled across the clearing towards a rather run-down looking burrow. As Pieter followed, a large shadow crossed the ground and he felt a draft over his head. 'Yeeeeeooow!'. Pieter ducked and then looked upwards at the large bird which had almost hit his head. 'What on earth was that?' he asked nervously. 'Oh, sorry, forgot to warn yer 'bout the Kelp Gull.' Meanwhile the gull was banking and zeroing in for the next attack. Pieter ducked again. 'Yeeeeeeooowww!' ''E's got a nest just past the burrow,' explained the older penguin. 'Watch yer nut, 'cos 'e can give yer a nasty whack if yer not careful.'

Pieter kept his eyes on the irate gull, tripping over a Tetragonia plant as he did so. 'There you go, mate. Make yerself at 'ome.' 'Thanks very much,' said Pieter and wandered inside the burrow. There wasn't much room, owing to the amount of accumulated junk. Pieter's quick look around revealed a beer bottle, two plastic drink containers, assorted rocks, a small wheel, a large bone and a wooden stake with 'G38' inscribed upon it (later to be identified by the island's researcher as a long-lost nest marker). Pieter squeezed himself in amongst the 'treasure trove' as best he could and eventually dozed off.

Come the morning, he decided to make his way down to the beach again, attempting to dodge his airborne neighbour as he did so. 'Yeeeeoooww!' screeched from above. Splat! Pieter felt a warm, wet sensation on his left flipper and got a whiff of the unmistakable aroma of part-digested mussel. Finally, Pieter reached the beach without further incident and approached the sea for a morning dip. As he did so, two penguins approached him. 'Morning' said one. 'Er, morning' replied Pieter. 'We noticed you having a problem with the gull.' said the other. 'Well, nothing I can't handle,' said Pieter, trying to hide his left flipper behind his back. 'Perhaps you might consider joining our organization,' said the first penguin. 'What organization is that?' asked Pieter. 'PAGADS' said the second penguin. 'What's PAGADS?' asked Pieter. 'Penguins Against Gulls and Diet Sampling' said the first penguin. 'Um, I'll think about it,' said Pieter and slipped into the waters of House Bay. 'Who needs a holiday, anyway,' he thought, and set course for home.

Elie and Nora Svalkon
Raptours Ltd

Originally published in Bird Numbers, December 1999.
© Animal Demography Unit, UCT.