Penguin Rehab

How to Power-Wash a Poop Mat

As a working hospital for sick and injured seabirds, SANCCOB houses hundreds of animals at one time. When I started during “the low season,” there were over 200 penguins, gulls and other birds waddling around in pens, all of whom need to be examined, medicated, fed, swam and just generally looked after. And, where there are that many fish-eating residents, there is a heck of a lot of poop.

Cleaning it is the unfortunate duty of many a volunteer, and generally serves as a welcome task for newbies as a sort of test of love. If you really want to work with penguins, you’ll be willing to do the dirty work. For me, I used it as a prime opportunity to work on my “resting bitch face,” and forced myself to be extra perky, a veritable Mary Poppins of  poop mats. They say if you look happy, you eventually start to feel it, and I have to say, it worked. Despite ending the day smelly and soaked, I actually had a really good time, and being extra efficient got me whisked away to the chick rearing unit within a few days, an unusual move for new volunteers. Here’s the scoop on how to manage the job, courtesy of my first day’s experience.


Things to Wash

In order of most to least life-threatening

  • Heavy mat of grassy plastic that takes forever to clean and flip. Lots of poop.
  • Large crates used to house birds in intensive care and older chicks. Minimal poop but major back-splash, especially for shorties.
  • Light, durable carpet used to line the aviary. Easy to clean. Enough poop to paint a barn.
  • Plastic waffle mats that go under carpets. Easy to clean. Minimal poop.
  • Colorful tarps of joy that divide pens. Take seconds to clean. Easy to carry. Almost zero poop.


Step 1: Turn on power-washer.

Step 2: Wash selected item.

Step 3: Turn off power-washer.

Step 4: If mat or carpet, flip, repeat steps 1-3.

Step 5: Disinfect.

Step 6: Store away clean item.

Step 7: Repeat steps 1-6 until you die or your shift ends, whichever comes first.


But fear not! There are better things to come, including laundry, fish filleting, formula making and of course, penguins.

(Also, can we all just take a moment to appreciate the penguin doing yoga in the photo? She’s just beyond the two penguins who are lying on their stomachs, to the left of the penguin that’s found inner peace.)