Monday, February 6, 2012

A Brief Encounter With The Falklands Penguins

Penguins in the Falklands Islands  
Monday February 06, 2012 Andy Gales, in Port Stanley, Falklands Islands

P-p-p-picking up a penguin in the Falklands Islands is easy. They can be found waddling up many beaches and hopping up a number of cliffs along the ragged coastline, which provides many sheltered inlets for them to colonise. And they are fantastically unfazed by humans - choosing to stop and stare at you, at very close quarters - rather than turn and run like most animals would. A history with very little human intervention has deprived them of suspicion and fear.

Unafraid: Two penguins seem to pose for the cameras (Photos: Andy Gales).

Penguins are common in the Falklands - and they are unafraid of humans We were taken to a colony of Rockhopper penguins just north of Stanley in the Berkley Sound just as the adults were returning after a day’s hunting at sea. Platoons of the little torpedos came ashore - timing their leaps with the waves and grabbing the rocky shore with the claws on their feet before scaling a steep climb to regurgitate their catch into the mouths of their grateful young.

Penguin spotting is popular with tourists

The noise and the smell were incredible. There were the screams and squawks of the adults and juveniles as they tried to find each other amongst the black and white crowds. The smell was fishy, very fishy. Even the constant wind that batters this part of the world didn’t dilute that.
Penguin spotting plays a big part in the tourist industry here and it’s a popular trip for visiting cruise ship passengers.

As well as Rockhoppers there are Magellanics, Gentoos and King Penguins at places like Gypsy Cove, Bertha’s Beach and Volunteer Island. Sometimes the shoreline isn’t accessible due to uncleared mines from the 1982 war and often you need permission from the landowner but it’s a fantastic way of getting really close to them in their natural habitat.

Adrian Lowe, who owns the Murrell Farm, drove us one hour across his land in his 4x4 to see the Rockhoppers. Penguin sightseeing is his summer time business. There are also many birds, dolphins, killer whales and sea lions that live here if penguins aren’t your fancy. It may involve a short flight, a bumpy off-road drive or a long walk but it’s truly a rare experience.

Tourism, fishing and soon oil are the driving forces behind the Falklands economy and the locals believe that if the transport links from South America were better then the islands could prosper further. However, the Argentine Government’s threat to stop the weekly flight from Chile remains - potentially impacting not just tourism but food supplies and the vitally important Chilean workforce here. But despite that the resilient residents will continue to thrive. And the people here will carry on regardless too.

Penguins can be seen dotting the cliffs as they dive in and out of the water


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