In 1953, the Ocean liner, Europa, filled with passengers emigrating to South Africa, set sail from Trieste to Cape Town. Among the crew members were two young boys from Istria, whose job it was to clean the passengers’ rooms. Once in South Africa, the two boys decided to get into some mischief and hatched a plan to go catch themselves one of the many penguins frolicking on the shore. Grabbing a net off the dock, the boys managed to capture a young penguin and smuggle it back on board. The baby penguin, scared and stressed soon began to languish — the boys tried to return it to shore, but by then, the Europa’s engines had started and the boat had begun to set sail back to Trieste. The boys, worried about the animal’s health, confessed their crime to their Bosun and eventually the secret was revealed to the crew and Captain. The penguin, nicknamed Marco, was quickly given full run of the ship where it began to interact with crew members and passengers alike.
By the time the ship docked in Trieste, a rumor began that the penguin was saved from certain death at the jaws of a seal and that the cabin boys in fact heroically came to his rescue. Marco was then taken to the Acquarium just near the port and was handed over to the caretaker, Pietro Contento. Marco spent the next 30+years as a familiar sight around town, spoiled by the fisherman who feed him, loved by children of the city and gaining a minor celebrity status in town until his death in 1985. A childrens’ book was written about Marco by local journalist Roberto Cavazin, “Storia di Marco, il pinguino rapito” (The Story of Marco, the Kidnapped Penguin) PS – only upon his death was it discovered that “Marco”, in fact, was a female penguin.