For a special birthday in the household, I arranged a brief trip to an outlying island in the Falklands. My previous post about Sea Lion Island mentioned the Gentoo penguins. I don't know where the name, Gentoo, comes from, but the names of the other two species of penguin on the island have better known derivations.
One is the Magellanic – named after the famous Portugese explorer, who first saw them in 1520 in Patagonia, where he thought they were flightless geese. Their lack of fear of man was to be heavily exploited by visiting ships which were running short of food.
They are also known as Jackass penguins, (because of their braying call), and are the same species as can be found at Boulders Beach near Cape Town and in Namibia. They were first seen by another Portugese explorer, Bartholomew Dias, south of Luderitz on the Namibian coast in 1487.
Using the knowledge gained by Dias, Vasco de Gama followed his route a few years later and opened up the trading route to India, sailing round the Southern tip of Africa, into the Indian Ocean. Dias named the famous point as “Cape of Storms”. But realising this wasn't attracting a lot of shipping, someone later renamed it “Cape of Good Hope”!
So, although the first Europeans to see penguins were from Portugal, no-one is sure where the name “penguin” comes from. Some people think it's Welsh!
Anyway, no-one is sure, either, how many Magellanic penguins there are as they live in burrows and are very difficult to count!
“You never forget your first Rockhopper. With massive eyebrows that make them look like mini-Dennis Healey, these small but incredibly feisty birds seem to epitomise the Falkland Islands. Tough, yet beautiful, rugged but characterful, and definitely full of surprises.”
Lyn Hughes, editor of Wanderlust magazine
The smallest pengiun on Sea Lion Island is the Rockhopper. These were also heavily exploited by man, and , on the tour, we passed an out-of-place brick building. It looked like an old bakery with a couple of rusting oven doors. We found out it was where the rockhoppers used to be boiled down for their valuable oil!
In a local recipe book, I found a recipe for Penguin Pavlova, but it only uses the eggs! I've read that few Antarctic explorers ate penguins, except in dire emergency (seal was preferred), although the very successful Scottish National Expedition of 1904 reportedly enjoyed the penguin dinners as a break from their usual monotonous diet. No comment!
LINK to Scottish Expedition
Rockhoppers come ashore in the austral spring to breed and moult. They often share cliff-top rookeries (for safety) with cormorants and albatrosses, but unlike those birds, they have to hop up every inch of the way. No wonder they don't run around much when they reach the top!
There were a few cormorant nesting sites that had no rockhoppers, but these were on top of 100 foot vertical cliffs.
|Clifftop Cormorant colony|
|Space is at a premium|
|Incredible sight, and smell!|
|Southern Sea Lion|
But dwarfing all other sea mammals, apart from whales, are the scores of Southern Elephant Seals that haul themselves ashore on the long, sandy beaches. The males weigh about 4 times that of the female - about 3,000 kg, and are about 16 feet (5 metres) in length.
|Intrepid photographer and elelphant seals|
|Sneaking past slumbering elephant seal|
However, this abundance of large seals brought predators to the island. On both nights we were there, we strolled down to the beach around dusk to watch the pods of killer whales patrolling just off-shore.
|Jeremy trying to attract an orca|
|Don't get too close|
|You looking at me?|
|Move over, shorty....|
|Would you mind moving?!|
|Striated Cara-Cara. Very few left.|
The Cara-cara is known as Johnny Rook in the Falklands and is a very rare bird, but remarkably easy to approach. It attacks its prey, usually young, flightless birds, by running at it, and striking with talons and beak. It hasn't done well on islands where cats have been introduced!
|Diddle-dee berries. Local delicacy.|
Sea Lion Island is carpeted in places by the native Diddle Dee bush which produce a profusion of red berries, often used in jam.
All in all, this is a wonderful place, and we felt very privileged to have the chance to experience it. The hospitality was generous, and, once the sun had set, there was lively conversations with visitors and locals in the bar. Then, one more nightcap, and off to bed to count penguins.