Some 2,000 penguins have been found dead since Sunday in the southern Brazilian states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, victims of an oil spill from an unidentified ship, Brazilian media reported Thursday citing the authorities, the dpa reported.
Hundreds of other animals survived the catastrophe and were being taken care of by experts in Santa Catarina state capital Florianopolis, after being found with their bodies covered in oil.
The ship responsible for the leak had not been identified and the exact location of the spill had not been found, although it was believed to be on the high sea south of Santa Catarina.
Brazilian Navy boats and airplanes were being used in the effort to find the leaked oil.
"There is no patrolling across the coastline so that we can have an idea of which ship is responsible for the leak. Here there is a route through which hundreds of ships pass everyday. It is very complicated to find which one it was," said Environmental Police sergeant Marcelo Duarte.
The wild animal care centre in Florianopolis is overstretched. At this time of the year it usually handles 2-3 animals at a time. Since the weekend it has been dealing with 30-40 oil-covered animals a day which have to be cleaned in a time-consuming process.
Most of the surviving animals are in a very bad state, and biologists and veterinarians from other Brazilian states have already been sent to assist the efforts.
When they come in contact with oil, the feathers of penguins and other sea birds lose their ability to keep birds warm and dry. The animals become heavier and they can hardly swim. They lose their strength and many freeze to death.
In the winter of the southern hemisphere, thousands of penguins travel as far as Brazil. They are pushed north by cold ocean currents as they search for food.