If someone told me 10 years ago that I would write several stories about the penguins who make their way to Brazil’s beaches every year, I’d have said they were mad. Penguins and Brazil go together like football players and class or telecoms companies and low rates.
Some 500 Magellanic penguins (like the one pictured) turned up dead on a beach in southern Brazil this week, probably from hunger and exhaustion after they swam north from Patagonia in search of food. They didn’t find the sardines and squid they were looking for and then got caught up in rough seas and high winds that tired them out.
The first time I wrote a piece about penguins appearing on Brazilian beaches was in 2000, when I wrote this Monitor piece. It was a bit of a novelty at the time and the story got huge play.
My pal from NPR went with me to Saquarema on the Rio coast and he said he had never got such positive feedback on any story in all his life. National Geographic for Kids even published a photo I took of a penguin in someone’s front yard, allowing me to boast I am a National Geographic photographer.
On that trip I saw wayward penguins adopted as pets, waddling around town on a leash. I spoke to people who put penguins in fridges to keep them cool (don’t, the shock can kill them). And I even heard of people taking penguins surfing with them on their boards.
So penguins are big news in the unlikeliest of places. And everything suggests they will continue to be. In this weird world of global warming and global colding, I’m sure I’ll be writing more about Brazil’s penguins, dead and alive, in the years to come.