Hundreds of oil-covered Magellanic penguins have surfaced off the Atlantic coast of South America in the past few weeks, according to an animal welfare organization.

Magellanic penguins are medium-sized South American penguins. The species is classified as "near threatened" because of its vulnerability to oil spills, which kill tens of thousands of the animals yearly off the coast of Argentina.

Oil spills harm numerous types of marine life, including seabirds. Oil interferes with their waterproofing abilities. This forces penguins, which are birds, out of the frigid waters in a state of hypothermia, leading to dehydration and sometimes starvation.

A continuous stream of oil from spills has created a chronic problem across South American waters and other parts of the world, said Rodolfo Silva of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, one of the agencies helping to treat the penguins.

This week, 36 Magellanic penguins were being treated at the Society for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Maldonado (SOCOBIOMA) center in Uruguay, where more than 40 of the penguins surfaced.

"After being stabilized and fed, the washing process is in full motion right now, and we expect to be able to release them back to the ocean in about 15 days or so," said Lourdes Casas of SOCOBIOMA.

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