Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Magellanic Penguins

On February 23rd Ann and I took the bus from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas, which for me was coming full circle.  I had started my trip in Punta Arenas, situated on the Straight of Magellan, on December 26th on my way to Antarctica.  This time Ann and I were looking forward to our boat trip the next day to Magdalena Island to see a large colony of Magellanic Penguins.

Magellanic Penguins are native to the Straight of Magellan and Magdalena Island is one of Chile's largest and most important breeding sites.  During peak breeding season on the island (December to February), researchers have recorded over 60,000 breeding pairs of penguins along with other gulls and birds.

Ann and I rode out to the island in a large Zodiac with about fifteen other tourists.  The island is bare with numerous burrows that the penguins use as nests.  Magellanic Penguins mate with the same partner each year using the same burrow.  When the penguin couples arrive on the island, they are able to find each other because the females can recognize their mates call.

Magellanic Penguin next to its burrow
They lay two eggs which incubate for five to six weeks.  The parents take turns brooding on the nest in ten to fifteen day shifts and then take care of the chicks for a month after they hatch.  When a parent is not caring for the eggs or chicks, it feeds in the ocean on cuttlefish, sardines, squid, and krill.  Seals are their primary predators along with sharks and killer whales.

Molting Penguin

Next our boat took us to nearby Marta Island where there is a large colony of South American Sea Lions.  South American sea lions consume numerous fish, squid, octopus, and penguins.   Mating occurs between August and December and pups are born between December and February. Males establish and defend their territories and their females.  Males keep around three females in their territory, but some can have as many as eighteen.

Sea Lions on Marga Island
As our boat headed back to shore, we were fortunate to encounter a school of Commerson's (aka Magellanic) Dolphins.  Commerson's dolphin has a distinctive black and white pattern and is one of the smallest cetaceans.  They are found in inland waters in Argentina and the Strait of Magellan as well as near the Falkland islands.  They feed on small fish, squid and crustaceans.  We got great views of them as they leapt out of the water chasing after our boat .    

Commerson's Dolphins

On February 25th we flew from Punta Arenas and arrived in Los Angeles the next day.  As we walked from international arrivals to domestic departures for our flight to Seattle I knew I was back in the USA when I spotted the airport dog park - complete with a plastic fire hydrant.


  1. The penguins are so funny looking! It reminds me of the movie, Happy Feet. =D Looking at the dolphins makes me want to have another boat trip and whale watching session with my wife and kids.

    Gerard Liz

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