How Humans Saved Penguins

by Leandro Narloch

My favorite example of innovation in favor of nature has to do with penguins. In the 19th century, a way to make money was to arrange a boat trip to Antarctica and return with a cargo of oil - either whale oil or oil penguin. These animals have a thick layer of fat to protect them from the cold, so people hunted them and boiled the fat for fuel for lamps and street lamps. In 1867, an expedition of four British ships manufactured 200,000 liters of penguin oil. As each bird yielded a pint of oil, you can estimate that in one expedition in that year alone killed about 400,000 penguins.

Because of commercial hunting, the population of penguins was disappearing in the late 19th century. But suddenly fishing boats left the dock in Antarctica. No one else was interested in hunting penguins, as a cheaper and more efficient fuel was gaining market share in Europe and the United States. That's how the invention of kerosene, a fossil fuel, saved millions of penguins in Antarctica.

The original article, in Portuguese, can be found here.