Oil fouls penguin feathers, reducing the waterproofing and insulating properties of their plumage. The birds become susceptible to hypothermia (chilling.)
Penguins also ingest the oil while trying to preen, which poisons them and causes internal organ damage.
On Oct. 5, 2011 the container ship, the CV Rena, ran aground on Astrolabe Reef, in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand spilling several hundred tons of fuel into the surrounding waters. Although, about 2,000 seabirds died as a result of the spill, 383 little penguins and 37 other types of seabirds were rescued. Of the rescued, penguins, 95% were returned to the wild after being cleaned and cared for. Researchers involved in monitoring the little penguin colonies found a normal nesting rate for rescued, de-oiled, and returned penguins.
Members of SeaWorld's Bird Departments have helped clean and care for oiled penguins in the Treasure and Rena oil spills and also other penguin rescue efforts.
POPs and brominated flame retardants can be transported to the Antarctic via air and water currents and migratory animals.
These contaminants can accumulate in an animal's tissues and biomagnify as they travel up the food chain.
Scientists measuring DDT levels in Adélie penguins during the breeding season found that DDT concentrations remained relatively the same in some colonies even though DDT pesticide use been banned in the Northern Hemisphere and has dramatically decreased in the Southern Hemisphere since 1980. A potential source for the persistence of DDT in Antarctic marine food webs is glacial meltwater.