What are some interesting and little known facts about penguins?

Many people don’t know that penguins probably exist thanks to a campaign during World War I.

This is part of a letter written by Frank Hurley, an Australian photographer, to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald:

“The penguins approach full of curiosity, and that is their end, because a blow to the head and a kick sends them into the pot. It’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. When the pot is full, it is sealed with the lid and the steam begins to take effect. This carnage claims the lives of about 150,000 penguins a year.

The penguins were boiled in oil to obtain oil. The islands to the south of New Zealand became great sources of penguin oil. Here we have a 1911 photograph taken by Frank Hurley on Macquarie Island.

Joseph Hatch, an entrepreneur, set up a factory on the island. During a period of 30 years, and despite the difficulties, Hatch produced oil killing more than three million penguins.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who would later write “The Worst Journey in the World”, joined the campaign to save the penguins, writing in The Times:

“…the Macquare Island stories bring the atrocities of the Belgians down to the level of a picnic. The penguins have now earned some of our affection because they are quite adorable, and because they are able to endure in a place with the worst living conditions in the entire world. If we don’t help them now, we can never look them in the eye again. Poor penguins, and poor us.”

HG Wells, a well-known author at the time, wrote in his 1919 book The Undying Fire:

“The king penguin is nearing the end of its existence. Let me tell you about what is happening in the peaceful South Seas. I myself was horrified by the despicable traffic that has been established… unless it is stopped, the traffic will kill all these animals. These birds are killed to sell their oil wholesale. There are expeditions of men who beat them while they are still in their nest, and yet the poor animals refuse to leave it. Live, stunned and dead penguins are dragged into cauldrons where they will be boiled to extract their oil.”

A year later, in 1920, the Australian prime minister revoked the license to hunt penguins and put an end to the killings.

I found a lot of this information in the book “Penguin”, which I recommend if you are looking for a short and informative read about penguins.