UPDATED: Norway’s partying high school graduates known as “russ” were suspected of sinking to a new low, after surveillance cameras captured some of them inside a penguin habitat at an aquarium in Ålesund around 3am Thursday. Three baby penguins and an unhatched egg were later reported missing and the local russ board issued an apology over their alleged theft. On Friday, police announced they were filing charges against “several” penguin-napping suspects.
Officials at the aquarium in Ålesund on Norway’s northwest coast were still issuing pleas for the safe return of the three-week-old baby penguins, after reporting their disappearance on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s national nightly news program Dagsrevyen Thursday evening. Police said Friday morning that they’d received no confessions of penguin-napping, and that the vulnerable baby penguins had not been returned or found, despite a major search and rescue effort that involved around 20 other regretful russ.
Can’t survive without their parents
“These small penguins have very little chance of surviving if they’re taken away from the warmth of their mothers and the feeding of both parents,” Tor Erik Standal, leader of the aquarium called Atlanterhavsparken that specializes in Atlantic species, told NRK. “Baby penguins need a lot of food and are completely dependent on their parents.”
Police added on Friday that the charges involve violations of Norway’s animal welfare law, specifically its paragraph against putting an animal into a helpless situation. Prosecutor Hilde Haugen of the Sunnmøre Police District told NRK that the charges may be altered as the police investigation progresses. She would not specify how many people had been charged nor would she immediately identify them.
Officials of Atlanterhavsparken registered Thursday morning that the penguins were missing. After checking surveillance video they contacted police. “Unfortunately it appears russ (pronounced “roose”) are involved,” Standal said, adding that intruders seen inside the penguins’ habitat were wearing the characteristic russ’ overalls.
Questioning and search efforts
Police questioned two russ on Thursday who admitted they broke into the park late Wednesday night. At least one other russ was also under suspicion and police said others could be involved as well.
“We’re not ruling anything out,” Kenneth Sætre, operations leader for the Sunnmøre Police District, told NRK. He said police had received tips about other russ who had been inside the park grounds but couldn’t say who may have taken the baby penguins.
“This is very unfortunate and not something we wanted to be part of russ (graduation) celebrations,” said Lars Sørnes, a representative for local russ and president of the graduating students at Fagerila High School in Ålesund. “If russ have taken the baby penguins, we want them to come forward. This ruins things for everyone, and it’s important to own up to it.”
NRK Friday reported that around 20 russ took part in a search of the coastal area at Tueneset, around the aquarium. The search was launched after tips to police that the baby penguins had been dumped in the area. The animal rights organization Kellys Håp, employees of the aquarium and other volunteers were also taking part in the highly unusual search and rescue effort.
‘Incredible lack of respect’
Standal said they’d already lost hope for the unhatched egg but that there was still a chance the baby penguins could survive if returned immediately to the park and their parents. Police reported a flood of tips from other russ, possibly ashamed by the penguin-napping. The area just outside the aquarium and park is a popular gathering place for russ in Ålesund.
The penguin-napping is the latest in a series of serious complaints about russ this year. They’re known for wild partying but also more recently for violence, vandalism and sexual assaults.
“This just makes me so sad,” said Standal. “I think it’s just hopeless that anyone could come up with a stunt like this. It shows an incredible lack of respect for these small lives.” He said park officials had tried for years to stop the russ, who pride themselves on drinking heavily, from gathering near the park and aquarium because they feared “something like this would happen. But neither the police nor city officials would listen to us.”