Dyan deNapoli is a renowned penguin expert, Ted speaker, and award-winning author known as The Penguin Lady. She dedidacted her career to a lifelong mission : help save the world’s Threatened and Endangered penguins by raising awareness and funding to protect all penguins.
If this project doesn’t make sense to you yet, you should know that penguin populations are collapsing and that 13 of the 19 species of penguins living on Earth today are on the verge of becoming extinct.
Among all the threats to which penguins are exposed, one of the most significant events of recent years was the Treasure oil spill. This terrible disaster resulted in one of the most successful animal rescues in which The Penguin Lady played a key role (learn more about The Great Penguin Rescue)
I had the chance to get an interview with Dyan deNapoli to learn a little more about her and her story, and here is our conversation.
You are probably one of the greatest penguin experts in the world. How did this passion for this animal come to you?
Dyan deNapoli: While I have some visibility, there are many penguin scientists far more deserving of that generous assessment – Peter Dann, Dee Boersma, and Pablo Garcia Borboroglu, to name just a few. I’ve always felt a powerful connection to animals and to the ocean, and was always obsessed with dolphins – but becoming a dolphin trainer seemed impossible. At 30, I decided I had to pursue that lifelong dream, and earned a BS degree in Animal Science. Following an internship with dolphins, I landed an internship at Boston’s New England Aquarium – and once I met the penguins, I was hooked!
Through your actions and commitment to animal protection, you have become an inspirational role model for many people around the world.
But who were your heroes in the past, who inspired you the most?
D: Jacques Cousteau was an early role model – his passion for the underwater world, and his mission to share that mysterious environment with others inspired me. But my lifelong shero is Dr. Jane Goodall. Like so many little girls, I wanted to grow up and BE her! I was fascinated by her relationship with the chimps of Gombe and the discoveries she made about them, and I dreamed of becoming a primatologist too. At 85, Dr. Goodall still travels 300+ days a year, urging world leaders and citizens alike to protect the environment – and she’s STILL my #1 shero!
We have all heard about the rescue of more than 40,000 penguins from a terrible oil spill, probably the most successful wildlife rescue in history.
Apart from that, what has been the most significant experience of your life as a penguin expert so far?
D: My current focus is educating the public about penguin conservation. Having my TEDxBoston talk about the Treasure oil spill selected for TED.com was certainly a significant moment – as was having Simon & Schuster publish my book about the rescue. Not because of any visibility it brought me – but because both brought much-needed attention to the plight of penguins.
Sadly, penguin populations are crashing precipitously, primarily due to global warming and overfishing
Sadly, penguin populations are crashing precipitously, primarily due to global warming and overfishing. The TED/TED-Ed platforms have helped me reach nearly 1 million people worldwide with the urgent message to protect penguins – something I could not have achieved alone.
In 2016, you were part of the inaugural Homeward Bound expedition to Antarctica which was created to give women of influence the leadership they deserve and to enhance their impact in decision-making for a healthy world.
What did it mean for you personally? Does this kind of initiatives offer you hope for a sustainable future?
D: Homeward Bound’s mission is to provide advanced leadership training for 1,000 women-in-science over a 10-year period, and to create a global network of diverse scientists that can support each other’s work and collaborate on future projects. Many of us have already worked together post-voyage – including across cohorts.
The commitment and drive of every woman on that ship gives me great hope for the future!
Spending 3 weeks in Antarctica interacting with 75 brilliant and highly accomplished female scientists was invigorating and inspiring! We had PhD students, university deans, astrophysicists, geologists, teachers, policy-makers, and more all learning from each other. The commitment and drive of every woman on that ship gives me great hope for the future!
In relation to our Shape Your Future video series, I would like to ask you one more question, in fact the one to top them all and to guide all of us:
How do you shape your future?