07/17/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
At first glance, it looks as if Linda Parker has introduced the penguins of Australia's Phillip Island Nature Park—famously sharp dressers, most often seen in tuxedos—to the notion of casual Fridays. Occasionally some of the island's avians trade in their best black-tie for natty, colorful, hand-knit sweaters—the sort of thing Dan Rather used to wear. For the birds, however, the issue isn't image, it's oil: Spills in nearby waters can coat their feathers, leaving the animals vulnerable to cold and, when they preen, toxins. "Some people feed the homeless, others make quilts for flood victims," says Parker, 51, a medical secretary who lives in Salt Lake City. "Why not do something to help a bunch of little penguins?"
Parker first heard of the penguins' plight from an Australian friend last summer. Since then, she and members of her Mormon church have turned out 200 tiny sweaters, which are slipped on oil-soaked birds while they are waiting to be cleaned. Despite the constant need—the sweaters have to be tossed after they are used—Parker doesn't plan to mechanize her knitting operation. "I'd like to think a penguin would prefer a handmade sweater," she says. "If I were a penguin, I certainly would."