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The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill, and the Inspiring Story of the World's Largest Animal Rescue [Kindle Edition]

Dyan deNapoli
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

ON JUNE 23, 2000,
the iron-ore carrier MV Treasure, en route from Brazil to China, foundered off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, spilling 1,300 tons of oil into the ocean and contaminating the habitat of 75,000 penguins. Realizing thJuneat 41 percent of the world’s population of African penguins could perish, local conservation officials immediately launched a massive rescue operation, and 12,500 volunteers from around the globe rushed to South Africa in hopes of saving the imperiled birds.

Serving as a rehabilitation manager during the initial phase of the three-month rescue effort, Dyan deNapoli—better known as "the Penguin Lady" for her extensive work with penguins—and fellow volunteers de-oiled, nursed back to health, and released into the wild nearly all of the affected birds. Now, at the tenth anniversary of the disaster, deNapoli recounts this extraordinary true story of the world’s largest and most successful wildlife rescue.

When she first entered the enormous warehouse housing most of the 19,000 oiled penguins, the birds’ total silence told deNapoli all she needed to know about the extent of their trauma. African penguins are very vocal by nature, prone to extended fits of raucous, competitive braying during territorial displays and pair-bonding rituals, but these poor creatures now stood silently, shoulder to shoulder, in a state of shock. DeNapoli vividly details the harrowing rescue process and the heartbreaking scenarios she came up against alongside thousands of volunteers: unforgettable images of them laboriously scrubbing the oil from every penguin feather and force-feeding each individually; the excruciatingly painful penguin bites every volunteer received; and the wrenching decisions about birds too ill to survive. She draws readers headfirst into the exhausting physical and emotional experience and brings to life the cast of remarkable characters—from Big Mike, a compassionate Jiu-Jitsu champion with a booming voice, who worked every day of the rescue effort; to a man named Welcome, aka "the Penguin Whisperer," who had the amazing ability to calm any penguin he held in his arms; to Louis, a seventeen-year-old medical student who created a new formula for the highly effective degreaser used by the rescue mission—whose historic and heroic efforts saved the birds from near extinction. The extraordinary international collaboration of scientists, zookeepers, animal rescue groups, and thousands of concerned individuals helped save the African penguins—recently declared an endangered species—from an all-too-common man-made disaster.

DeNapoli’s heartwarming and riveting story is not just a portrait of these captivating birds, nor is it merely a cautionary tale about the environment. It is also an inspirational chronicle of how following one’s passion can lead to unexpected, rewarding adventures—and illustrates not only how people from around the world can unite for a greater purpose, but how they can be extraordinarily successful when doing so. The Great Penguin Rescue will inspire readers to believe they can make a difference

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

On June 23, 2000, a ship foundered off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. The area in which it sank, located between two of the main breeding colonies of the African penguin, threatened approximately 75,000 penguins, more than 40 percent of the world’s population. Within hours after the ship sank, heavily oiled penguins began to stream ashore onto nearby islands and beaches. As parents were unable to return to them, chicks left in the breeding colonies would slowly starve to death. The rapidly overwhelmed penguin rehabilitation center in Cape Town put out an international call for help to the zoo and aquarium network, and deNapoli, a penguin keeper at the New England Aquarium, was among the first group to arrive. Her firsthand account of the rescue of the oiled penguins (all of whom fought against their rescuers), repeated washing of each bird, force-feeding, and guano cleanup plunges the reader into the maelstrom of animal rescue and rehabilitation on such a large scale. --Nancy Bent


"[DeNapoli's] firsthand account of the rescue...plunges the reader into the maelstrom of animal rescue and rehabilitation on such a large scale." ---Booklist

Product Details

  • File Size: 2226 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (October 26, 2010)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #791,239 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring, Educating October 21, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When my copy of The Great Penguin Rescue arrived in the mail I sat down with it at dinner expecting to read a chapter or two while I ate, then go back to work. I ended up reading the entire book straight through. I just couldn't put it down. From the very beginning the book had me hooked, and I wanted to know every detail about this amazing set of circumstances and the people involved.

Penguins are in trouble around the globe, and the catastrophic oil spill in 2000 right in the middle of a pair of breeding colonies caused world-wide alarm. Within days the call went out to penguin experts everywhere to come in and help. Dyan deNapoli was one of those who answered the call. She was plunged into a situation unlike any that had been seen before. Giant warehouses of scared, oil-coated penguins had to be evaluated, hand fed, and cleaned. The volunteers had to handle razor-sharp beaks, exhausting hours, and sickening stench. They fought through it all, knowing the species' survival could be at stake.

Dyan does an amazing job of helping the reader be there in the moment with her. My eyes welled with tears at many points as I read about the things the people and penguins went through. The rescuers didn't know if this effort would work or not. They could only do their best and pray things worked out.

The book makes you realize that each one of us can make a difference if we follow our dreams and focus on our goals. The people rescuing the penguins were often housewives and office workers, donating their time and efforts to clean the penguin tanks, cut up the fish, and do the many other tasks necessary to keep the rescue center going. Every one of those people helped to make the rescue a success. Each of us has that power, to use our time to make the world a better place.

Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Power of People:Uplifting Animal Story July 9, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
For environmentalists and animal lovers alike, this is an incredible story of how one team of penguin specialists pulled from around the world joined forces with 12,500 volunteers to rescue an astronomical number of endangered penguins. These precious birds located off the South African coast had their lives seriously threatened from a massive oil spill, when cargo ship The Treasure sunk in June of 2000. Readers will be in awe at the large-scale operation and just what it took to save these beautiful animated birds. With blood, sweat and tears, people worldwide poured in to assist in the rescue, toiling hour after hour for months, to clean, feed, and heal these injured penguins. Often heartbreaking, but mostly uplifting and inspiring, this is truly a winning true story!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book changed my life. I'm not kidding. February 5, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An incredible, beautiful and informative story. You will learn about the plight of penguins, the incredible devotion and skill of the wildlife-caring community (Who knew what a seminal role the New England Aquarium has in worldwide work with ocean-dwellers?) and this one event in particular. (Also, the pictures are fabulous and make the experience more real to the reader.) Reading this compelled me to do something for penguins, so I now give monthly to World Wildlife Fund. A great book to give young people to nurture their involvement/caring about other species. Also a great read (It really is a page-turner!) for adults - the plane, the beach, read to each other before sleep .... Enjoy!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Penguin Rescue is a compelling story September 16, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
I had the pleasure of meeting the author, Dyan deNapoli, at the 2014 New England Author Expo. I mention this because her passion for penguins is sincere. She is called The Penguin Lady for a reason.

I read my signed book in one sitting a day after meeting her. I will say this: the journey she conveys is in the tradition of the best scientific writing (E.O. Wilson) and brings her personal interest in the plight of the South African penguins to the interested reading public. What other reviewers fail to mention is that the Treasure Hunt oil spill in 2000 was but the second catastrophic oil spill in the region. Some of the penguins were veterans of two oil disasters. Dyan, a penguin expert at the New England Aquarium, was called in to join marine wildlife experts from around the world. She had no idea of the magnitude of the horror that she would encounter at the scene. The reader learns that penguins are usually very vocal birds (and territorial, with razor-sharp beaks), but when she entered the warehouse where they were kept, there was an ominous silence. Step-by-step she retells what the team did, what the thousands of heroic volunteers had to do for these birds.

There is heartbreak: some birds died not from the spill, but from the transportation in crates in truck overland. Volunteers hand-washed the birds. It took an hour or more per bird, so multiply that times thousands of birds to understand the volunteer hours – and the scars from the birds. It is inspiring to know that so many people from around the world came together for these birds. One can only wonder what could be accomplished if people did this for other people. I was very impressed when I read that it was a bright 17-year old boy who invented the special soap to degrease the penguins.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Inspiring Story January 1, 2011
I picked up this book at my local library (mostly because it was on display and because I love penguins). Initially, I was a bit skeptical about the book and did not really know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was reading a book that was extremely well rounded, educational, and entertaining.

While the book's premise focuses mostly upon the author's experience at the Salt River Centre during the time of the Treasure oil spill, it also provides a lot of background information. The author not only discussed her own work with penguins and how she got started, but also provided enlightening information about oil spills, general penguin and African penguin population statistics, and the impacts of a wildlife rescue upon animals and humans alike. Furthermore, she blended these statistics seamlessly into her writing, helping the reader to feel more at ease with the information they were being told, as opposed to having it thrown at them.

Dyan did an excellent job of writing this book, not only with basic things like structure and grammar, but also by structuring her story to help the reader understand the heartbreaking and heartwarming experience this rescue was. She very often contrasted funny anecdotes with heartbreaking events that showed the reader how emotionally turmoil the situation was. Not only that, but her strategy also kept the story moving and helped prevent the deeper emotional events from weighing down her account too much. Dyan also managed to paint a vivid picture through her excellent use of prose, helping to establish scenes in the reader's mind. Sometimes, I could actually see these birds, covered with oil, and cowering in their pens!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars my favorite book
I saw Dyans TED talk online, and she is a great speaker. I bought this book after seeing her talk. This book is quite moving. I will share this book with others.
Published 7 months ago by Hanna Kim
4.0 out of 5 stars The Great Penguin Rescue
Great information and description of how the penguins were rescued by generous volunteers of their time and effort. Some parts are slow reading.
Published 11 months ago by Ruby
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring, Moving & Amazing. It will get you thinking ....
Amazing story about how a few handful of wildlife rescuers and 1000's of volunteers saved over 40,000 penguins during the 2000 Treasure oil spill. Really moving and touching. Read more
Published on July 16, 2011 by M.A.
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific tale of hope
This is a great tale of a rescue that gives hope to all who care about animals, and penguins specifically, in this time when creatures all over the world are under increasing... Read more
Published on February 2, 2011 by Alvin E Powell
5.0 out of 5 stars Any general interest or natural history collection will relish this!
Published on January 17, 2011 by Midwest Book Review
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for all ages !
This book is touching in that it has been written by the Author expressing her own experiences during the biggest wildlife rescue to date ! Read more
Published on January 12, 2011 by Rick CapeTown
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book!
I just finished reading the Great Penguin Rescue, and the author, Dyan deNapoli, is one of my new American Idols! I highly recommend this book! Read more
Published on January 8, 2011 by Emily Parker
5.0 out of 5 stars An Inspiring Story
I just finished this compelling story that could have ended tragically if not for the efforts of close to 13,000 volunteers from across the globe who traveled to South Africa in... Read more
Published on November 27, 2010 by Biker
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More About the Author

Dyan deNapoli's first penguin encounter occurred at the New England Aquarium when she was eight years old. Twenty-six years later she returned as an intern in the penguin department, and was soon hired as staff. In 2000, after 40,000 African penguins were threatened by an oil spill, she flew to South Africa to help supervise the rehabilitation efforts. More than 12,500 volunteers labored for three grueling months, ultimately saving 95% of the penguins in what still stands as the largest and most successful animal rescue ever undertaken. Published by Simon & Schuster in 2010, THE GREAT PENGUIN RESCUE was a Silver Award Winner in the 2010 Nautilus Book Awards, was named a "Must-Read" Book in the 2010 Massachusetts Book Awards, and was listed as "One of the best sci-tech book so 2010" by Library Journal. Part of the proceeds from THE GREAT PENGUIN RESCUE will be donated to penguin rescue and conservation groups.

Dyan's talk about this rescue was featured on in the summer of 2011. Since 1995, Dyan has taught more than 250,000 people about penguins. As The Penguin Lady, she shares her passion for these engaging seabirds with audiences worldwide. Dyan has appeared on numerous television and radio shows, including CNN's Situation Room, BBC Radio 5 Live, CBC Radio Canada, Sierra Club Radio, and ABC Radio Australia. In 2008, she authored the new penguin chapter for Scholastic Publishing's New Book of Knowledge encyclopedia. She has been the penguin expert and guest lecturer on nature cruises to Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands; she has also traveled to Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa to work with, teach about, and observe penguins in the wild. To learn more, visit


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