Sorry, you can't work as a 'penguin erector' after all

Waddle you do with that job application? Despite a viral tweet, turns out no zoo will hire you to pick up tipped-over penguins.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
2 min read
Michael Polito/Louisiana State University

Some animal stories are just too good to be true. 

A tweet sent out Sunday describing a supposed job at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland stirred so much interest, the zoo itself had to reply and deny the job existed.

It all started with the idea of a "penguin erector." 

The original tweet, from Scottish Twitter user Shauni Humphries, read, "Boy in the pub was telling me his job is a penguin erector so every time a plane (flies) over Edinburgh Zoo the penguins can't take their eyes off it and end up falling over (and) he just goes round picking them back up, 38 penguins 2000 flights a day."

Humphries told me the supposed "penguin erector" was an acquaintance named Liam Ross who was at the pub where she works, and that it's not the first time she's been fooled.

"All the guys in the pub (tease me) all the time because I'm so gullible and believe so much of it," she said. 

By Tuesday night, that tweet had been liked more than 760,000 times and retweeted more than 172,000 times. It's an amazing mental image, a flock of penguins staring up in the sky and becoming so mesmerized by jets they then slip over onto their backs.

But the Twitter account for the Edinburgh Zoo itself dashed those dreams. Twitter user Dave Connor went straight to the source, asking, "Surely this isn't really a thing @EdinburghZoo?"

And the zoo account replied on Monday,  "We're sure this will come as a disappointment to many but there is no such position here at Edinburgh Zoo." 

Humphries said she didn't believe Ross' story fully, but she did think penguins fell over due to zooming planes.

"I knew he made up the job title but I really thought people went around picking them," she said. "He was convincing saying how because they don't have arms, they can't get themselves back up again"

She's not alone. The zoo wrote in a later tweet, "It's a very popular rumour, but penguins do not track planes as they fly overhead. Any clumsy penguin behaviour tends to be unrelated to aircraft."

Numerous Twitter users didn't know waddle to do with their penguin-focused career dreams after this sad news.

"Can.... can you guys make it a position for us penguin enthusiasts. I'll volunteer," wrote one.

The penguins-are-mesmerized-by-planes concept isn't a new belief, although urban-legend site Snopes.com debunks it pretty thoroughly.

It cites an expert, Richard Stone of the British Antarctic Survey, who says, "I'm afraid it's an urban myth. Aircraft do have an effect on penguins, but not to the extent of birds falling over."

At least the zoo was sorry about it. "We sincerely apologise to all the budding Penguin Erectors out there," the zoo tweeted out on Tuesday.

First published Aug. 21, 8 p.m. PT. 
Update, Aug. 22 at 1:48 p.m. PT:Adds comments from Shauni Humphries.