Saving penguins with a wave of the wand

Life-saving first aid can now be offered to oiled penguins and other wildlife thanks to tiny oil-absorbing iron particles and a magnetic wand.

Removing oil with a wave of the wand. Credit: Phillip Island Nature Parks
Removing oil with a wave of the wand.
Credit: Phillip Island Nature Parks

Developed by Professor John Orbell and his team at Victoria University, the technology delivers emergency stabilisation that acts within minutes.

“Oiling of our wildlife is happening on a continual basis worldwide,” John says.

“Compared to the traditional approach of detergent-based treatment at rescue centres, our highly portable dry-cleaning method enables us to quickly remove the most toxic and corrosive oil components.”

The immediacy of the aid limits the birds’ exposure to many dangerous oil chemicals, and minimises feather damage. The animals can return to the wild sooner, and in better health.

The iron particles themselves are non-toxic, non-corrosive and environmentally friendly. For use, they are simply applied as a powder: the more toxic volatile components in oil immediately bind to the particles, and create a paste-like material.

“Then in a one-handed action we stroke the magnetic wand down the animal, and it strips off the oil-laden particles,” John explains.

This technology can be extended to other species including seals, sea otters and turtles.

“We’ve recently obtained grants to develop this technology further and disseminate it world-wide,” says John.

Victoria University worked with the Philip Island Nature Parks and the Penguin Foundation to create this tool.

For more information:
Victoria University
Donna Hannan,

Banner image credit: Phillip Island Nature Parks