Contrary to popular belief, penguins are not clumsy; they are very intelligent birds. Dyan likens them to cats:
"The penguins at the aquarium, for example, they know their names and they’ll respond when you call them — if they feel like it. They’re very much like a cat that way, in that if they want attention, they’ll come over and solicit it or respond when you call. And if they don’t, they’ll just ignore you and swim away in the other direction." (SOURCE: The Boston Globe)
Animations depict them as animals with awkward gaits, but they are actually very graceful. The penguin is the bird that can dive the deepest, therefore fulfilling an ecological niche that keeps the ecosystem balanced. Without penguins, our oceans would be greatly affected. In the same way, without clean oceans, penguins would die. Of the eighteen species of penguins, fourteen are already endangered or threatened to be endangered. Dyan points to two things that are causing the problem: climate change and human activity.
But, while we are harming penguins to the point of near-extinction, we are also their only hope for survival. If we don’t care for them, their numbers will continue to decline. Today, Dyan provides her expertise to both publications and conferences to educate the masses about penguins. Apparently, not so many people are worried, simply because they don’t understand the implications.
Dyan is adamant about caring for penguins; according to her, they are nature-indicators. If penguins are dying, it means our oceans are, as well. Without healthy oceans, we won’t have clean water to drink. So, caring for penguins will be a direct benefit for the human race, no matter how irrelevant it currently may seem. For Dyan, what’s important now is ensuring that we are aware of just how important penguins are.
Falling in Love with Animals
Dyan deNapoli was an awkward kid, a loner who took comfort in reading books. It was her way of escaping reality. Soon, she was even dreaming up her own characters, which kept her very entertained:
"I learned to read at the age of five, and quickly became a voracious reader. Libraries were my church, and throughout my childhood, I would borrow and devour up to ten library books each week. Though people who know me now would never believe it, I was a shy and socially awkward child, and books were a way of temporarily escaping my feelings of discomfort and loneliness. Through books, I could enter other exciting worlds, both real and imagined.
I also began writing at an early age. First, I dabbled in poetry, and later I began crafting short stories. These stories were another way to escape; only this time, I was the one creating the worlds and the characters and the action in the stories. Using my vivid imagination in this way—bringing something to life where there had previously been nothing—was empowering and fulfilling." (SOURCE: National Writing Project)
When she was only five years old, her parents took her to the Miami Seaquarium. That was the first time she ever saw a dolphin up-close, and she fell in love with them right away. In fact, she began harboring a dream to become a dolphin trainer one day, and it was all she could think about in the weeks that followed. She knew, above all, that she wanted a career that would keep her close to nature. When she spoke at TED, she jested about Flipper being her idol since she was a little girl and up to when she was in her thirties.
Dyan went to Glover Elementary School and the Williston-Northampton high school; she then went to study Liberal Arts at Colby Sawyer College. Upon her graduation, she embarked on an entrepreneurial journey and became a silversmith. She still dreamt of working with wild animals, so she did what she could for her business to have some semblance of ecological care. She liked to make accessories with dolphin designs and other aquatic animals. To help conservation of endangered species, she also gave 20% of her earnings to organizations.
Her parents knew of her affinity towards animals and profound love for anything endangered. For her 30th birthday, they gave her an Earthwatch Institute trip, allowing her to take a month off from her regimented life to do what she loved most: be with dolphins. It was a surreal experience. Her four-week stay taught her a lot about the ecological state of the planet; she also learned to communicate with dolphins through sign language.
Dyan knew in her heart that giving a portion of her profits to animal conservation was hardly enough, so she made a tough decision: she gave up her business to go back to school. She enrolled at Mount Ida College to pursue Veterinary Studies from 1992 to 1996. In her final year, she took an internship job at Boston’s New England Aquarium, and that was when she was introduced to penguins.
As she got to know the penguins, she could not help but be taken by their sheer intelligence and the way they show appreciation. Penguins actually respond when you call them by their name. In the same year she earned her Veterinary Diploma with summa cum laude distinction, the Apollo Oil Spill occurred, endangering the lives of thousands of penguins.
Her heart broke for the thousands of penguins that suffered; the African ocean, of course, is one of the penguins’ breeding habitats. The oil spill decimated the once-thriving penguin population in the area, and rescuers were hardly equipped to take up the task of rescuing over 40,000 penguins from deadly chemicals. When a penguin is soaked in oil, its feathers are disabled from shielding it from the cold; when this happens, they are unable to go diving for food, and their babies often die of starvation as a result.
“The Great Penguin Rescue”
When a post for a staff position opened at the New England Aquarium, Dyan applied quickly and was accepted for the job. She rose through the ranks and eventually became the aquarium’s Senior Penguin Aquarist, in charge of touring visitors and educating them about penguins. This hands-on experience gave Dyan extensive knowledge about caring for penguins; coupled with passion, she soon earned the respect of other experts in the field.
So, when MV Treasure sank yet again in the African seas, Dyan received a call from “SANCCOB,” a penguin caring facility, asking her to fly there at once to help rescue the thousands of oiled penguins. She hopped onto a flight bound for Africa a couple of days later. Having known how noisy penguins are, especially when frustrated or uncomfortable, she was shocked to find a room full of them eerily silent. It was obvious that they were very ill.
They did all they could to save as many of the 40,000 as possible. More than 12,000 volunteers from all over the world volunteered to help, and, after a half-million hours of volunteer work, they successfully released them back to their oil-free habitats. More than 90% of the penguins survived.
“The Penguin Lady”
For Dyan, nothing could be more rewarding than taking part in saving the nearly-endangered species. So, when German biologist Sylvia Gaus suggested that oiled birds be euthanized for having “little to no chance of survival,” Dyan was horrified. She realized how mistaken some people can be, even experts. In 2006, she set up her educational business, “The Penguin Lady.”
She began to educate people about the importance of penguins to our ecological balance. So far, she has spoken to more than 250,000 Americans! She has also written for Grolier books and the New Book of Knowledge encyclopedia.
However, her most successful book was her own, published by Simon & Schuster and titled “The Great Penguin Rescue.” Judging by the accolades it has earned, we’re guessing Dyan has touched more than the number of people she claims to have educated.
Organizations and Programs Supported
- The Penguin Lady
- New England Aquarium (Senior Penguin Aquarist)
- National Marine Educators Association
- Massachusetts Marine Educators Association
- Association of Zoos & Aquariums
- North Shore Women in Business
- North Shore Business Forum
- Mensa International
- Home-based Businesswomen's Network
- Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory
- North American Vet Tech Association
- Mass Vet Tech Association
- International Zoo Educators Association
- American Association of Zoo Keepers
- Mount Ida College Vet Tech committee member, International Women's Writing Guild
- Grub Street writing center in Boston
- Authors Guild
Awards and Achievements
- 1994: Received Distinguished International and Distinguished Regional President Awards from Phi Theta Kappa
- 1996: Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Mount Ida College and received “Exceptional Achievement in the Sciences” award
- 1999: Completed “Continuing and Professional Education” course in Zoo & Aquarium Conservation Education from North Carolina State University
- 2002: Received “Distinguished Alumni Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Sciences”
- 2004: Helped save 40,000 penguins from the MV Treasure oil spill
- 2006: Founded “The Penguin Lady”
- 2010: Her book, “The Great Penguin Rescue,” was included in “Bird Books we Like” by “Birdwatching” and named one of the “Best Natural History Books” by Library Journal
- 2011: “The Great Penguin Rescue” won Silver in the Nautilus Book Awards and was named a “Must-Read" by the Massachusetts Book Awards
- 2011: Spoke at TEDxBoston
- Taught over 250,000 people in the U.S. and abroad about penguins
- Authored a penguin article for the New Book of Knowledge encyclopedia
- Served as the onboard penguin expert and guest lecturer on cruise ships visiting Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands
- Served as President of the Home-based Businesswomen's Network
- The New York Post included “The Great Penguin Rescue” on their “Required Reading List”
- Interviewed by CNN's Situation Room, BBC Radio, ABC Radio Australia and Sierra Club Radio
TED (Dyan deNapoli: Penguin expert)
TED Talks (Dyan deNapoli: The great penguin rescue)
The Penguin Lady (Biography)
Facebook (The Penguin Lady)
The Penguin Lady
LinkedIn (Dyan deNapoli - THE PENGUIN LADY)
Questions for Living (Dyan deNapoli)
All Experts (Dyan deNapoli)
National Writing Project (Why I Write: Dyan deNapoli Writes for the Penguins)
Questions for Living (Questions For The Great Penguin Rescue)
The Boston Globe (To the rescue)