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15 million penguins live in the South Atlantic not including the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic zones. A large proportion are found in the Falklands which possesses the largest concentration in the world of rockhoppers and a quarter of the world's population of gentoo. Three other species are also present on the isles: king penguins, magellanic penguins and the rarer Macaroni penguins. All have their own personality and characteristics.

- The rockhopper is the smallest (50cm) penguin in the Falklands and it is noisy and quarrelsome. Very adept at climbing along cliffs, jumping, feet together, from rock to rock, it can scale an almost vertical wall more than 50 m high with amazing and amusing ease. The very compact colonies are situated at the top of cliffs often in conjunction with albatrosses or cormorants. Like all penguins, it cannot fly because its wings are too short but they are well adapted for swimming. This bird is agile and very rapid in water. It eats different kinds of shellfish and some fish. To see this penguin coming out of the water is an impressive spectacle. It lets itself be propelled by a wave against the cliff! The population of rockhoppers is estimated to be 300’000 couples spread over 36 sites in the Falklands. It is the highest concentration in the world. They arrive in October or November and lay two eggs which are unequal in size (in general only the chick from the bigger egg survives) and they usually leave with their young in April. The presence of Rockhoppers has declined enormously in the Falklands. The population only represents 10% of the 1930 population and this decline is continuing. In 1996 this species was classed by the Falklands Government as vulnerable.

- The macaroni penguin is the most numerous in the world with a population of about 9 million. The Falklands are situated at the extreme northern limit of their breeding zone which is why only a hundred couples are seen in this region. It resembles the Rockhopper and has a similar way of life and often one sees them in small numbers among the rockhoppers. It is, however, a bit bigger measuring about 70 cm in height. It is vulnerable to change in the environment, directly or indirectly due to man, such as pollution or the heating of the planet. We did not see any during our stay.

- The gentoo penguin, about 80 cm in height is dispersed, in small colonies across the islands which are, for this species, the second most important breeding area in the world. It stays all year round near the coast. The population in the Falklands is estimated at about 65’000 couples. It lays in October / November two eggs in a nest positioned on the ground and made of stones, grass and pieces of wood. It's one of the rare penguins to bring up two chicks at the same time. The couple are remarkably faithful and find each other every year. It feeds on krill, fish and squid which it generally finds near the coasts within a radius of 20 km. The gentoo is potentially affected by the intense fishing commerce and because of the low survival rate of the chicks its population declines from year to year.

- The magellanic penguin is more known in the Falklands by the name of “jackass penguin” due to its piercing cry. 70 cm high, it is the only penguin to live and lay eggs in a burrow. It eats small fish, shellfish and small species of squids. During incubation the adult can go up to 500 km looking for food but when its two eggs arrive it generally stays within a radius of 30 km of the nest and one of the two adults stays permanently with the little ones. Its population, in the Falklands, is estimated at 100’000 couples. It arrives on the isles in September, lays in October / November and leaves in April, probably to spend winter in the waters near Patagonia but it is possible that it migrates further north up to Brazil. There it is confronted with serious problems such as sea traffic and pollution and it is estimated that 20’000 adults and 22’000 young are killed along the Argentinian coast each year. The number present in the Falklands declines each year by 10%.

- The king penguin is the tourist's favourite because it is the most majestic. Its height of about 1 metre and its orange colour just below its head provide a sense of nobility. Also it does not miss an occasion to strut, being very proud, in front of your camera. It is quite rare in the Falklands, except at Volunteer Point where the only important colony is assembled (about 400 couples). It installs itself temporarily to lay, bring up its young and moult. It does not make a nest but keeps its only egg between its leg during the whole incubation period which lasts about 55 days. As the reproductive cycle lasts nearly 14 months a couple can only give birth twice every three years. The two parents, probably united for life, take care of the little ones. The young king penguin is very amusing, especially when it is still very little, resembling a furry ostrich egg with a long beak, small beating wings and it moves with a marked waddle. It keeps its fur until adult when it begins to moult. The chicks are born at the end of the southern summer and spend the winter in groups until the spring. The parents can be seen during the whole year but some leave and go long distances looking for food. They feed mainly on small fish which they find at depths of up to 300 metres. The adults begin to reproduce at the age of 3 and can live to be more than 30.

Text: © M.Chabod / F. Bettex   •   Photos: © Fabrice Bettex / Mysterra




 
Falkland Islands picture - Rockhopper penguin

Falkland Islands picture - Rockhopper penguin

Falkland Islands picture - Rockhopper penguin

Falkland Islands picture - Rockhopper penguin

Falkland Islands picture - Magellanic penguin

Falkland Islands picture - Magellanic penguin

Falkland Islands picture - Magellanic penguin

Falkland Islands picture - Magellanic penguin

Falkland Islands picture - Gentoo penguin

Falkland Islands picture - Gentoo penguin

Falkland Islands picture - Gentoo penguin

Falkland Islands picture - Gentoo penguin

Falkland Islands picture - King penguin

Falkland Islands picture - King penguin

Falkland Islands picture - King penguin
       
         
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