Do you dream of seeing penguins up close? Today we bring you a post with all you need to know about these fascinating creatures.

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Argentina on the go

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Activities

PUBLISHED

April 9th, 2024

T his trip around Argentina will feature only one main star: the beautiful and emblematic penguin.

With AOTG you will be able to include this experience on your itinerary in an eco-friendly way – always in the company of highly-qualified operators who honor the preservation and care of these animals.

In order to delve deeper in the world of penguins, we spoke to Agustina Monti, Phd in Biology, a researcher at CONICET (National Scientific and Technical Research Council) and one of the researchers in a group that investigates the biology and conservation of Patagonia’s sea birds at the Patagonia Austral National University. The latter entity studies the ecology of penguins and cormorants in Santa Cruz. Agustina is also a member of Aves Argentinas’ steering committee.

In this post today, Agustina will walk us through some of the main features of penguins, their species and some of the key recommendations for those who get the chance to see them up close.

Why are there penguins in Argentina?

Our country is home to several species of penguins. This is the result of the great variety of coastal marine habitats, especially in Patagonia, which offer these creatures the ideal conditions for their breeding on the coast and islands and their feeding in the sea. The cold current from the Islas Malvinas (or Falkland Islands), which flows from south to north along the Argentine coast is rich in nutrients and it provides a setting conducive to a high marine productivity on the whole of Patagonia’s marine and continental shelf.

How many species can we find in Argentina?

Four different species of penguins nest in Argentine Patagonia.

The Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus): It represents the largest group in Argentina, with numerous colonies located in Rio Negro, Tierra del Fuego and the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands). This species has white and black plumage with two stripes on the breast.

The Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome): It has large colonies in Tierra del Fuego (Isla de los Estados) and on the Islas Malvinas, and a small colony in Santa Cruz (Isla Pingüino). It is smaller than the Magellanic Penguin and it has characteristic yellow eyebrows, red eyes and an orange bill. Its conservation status is considered vulnerable, as its populations have been shrinking in the past few decades, mainly due to the growing scarcity of prey in the sea brought about by oceanic changes.Climate change may impact the sea temperature and its productivity.

The Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua): Slightly bigger than the ones above, this species has a wide white stripe across the top of its head and an orange-red bill. In continental Argentina there is a small colony in the Beagle Channel. There is a significant population of the Gentoo on the Islas Malvinas.

King Penguin (Aptenodyptes Patagonicus): This is the second largest species after the Emperor penguin. It builds crowded colonies on sub-Antarctic and Antarctic islands, like the South Georgia islands. There are a few breeding pairs in Tierra del Fuego and some slightly bigger ones on the Islas Malvinas.

King Penguin

What SHOULDN’T we do while visiting a penguin colony or a natural reserve that hosts such creatures?

● Never try to touch or grab them.
● Do not run or walk too fast.
● Do not speak loudly or shout.
● Do not force them to get into the water, and do not wet them.
● Do not enter their space with a dog.

What are the main recommendations for visitors to interact with penguins in a responsible way?

● Follow the guides’ recommendations and instructions and abide by the local signage.
● Keep a distance of several meters (this also applies to the mobile phone, the camera and the selfie stick), especially from those creatures breeding or molting.
● Keep yourself within the trails and away from the breeding colonies and rest areas of the penguins.
● If you live near a protected or natural area, it is important to not let your dog loose in the streets. There have been cases in which penguins (among other wild animals) were killed by roaming dogs.

The Magellanic Penguin

Are penguins dangerous? How close to them can we get?

If you try to touch a penguin, it is likely to defend itself by using its bill (which is very strong, sharp and hooked) and hurt you. Besides, that may stress the penguin. The close contact between a human and this creature may also lead to disease transmission (both ways).

Currently, indeed, there is a risk of transmission of avian influenza. It is always best to keep a distance of several meters and stay out of their way so they can move freely. A change in their behavior (e.g. if it suddenly stands up straight) may mean you are likely to be standing too close and will be best to move back.

King Penguin

Which is the best time to sight this species?

Between October and March, when they are present in their breeding colonies.From April to September they stay in the sea, away from their colonies.

The largest colony of Penguins is found in Chubut Puerto Madryn, Peninsula Valdés and Punta Tombo, the latter one of the most emblematic. Ushuaia, another strategic and magical point to see them.

What kind of programs does the Aves Argentinas’ steering committee have in pursuit of the preservation and care of this creature?

At the moment, Aves Argentinas does not have a specific program for the conservation of penguins. However, there is an ongoing marine program that seeks to reduce the rate of mortality associated with the collision or incidental fishing of sea birds by fishing vessels. Even though penguins are not the most vulnerable birds, there are certain fishing styles, like trawl fishing, that may affect them.

What’s more, Aves Argentinas coordinates the Fauna and Marine Environment Coastal Squad of Observers (ECOFAM, for its initials in Spanish), through which the volunteers walk up and down the beach on a regular basis. During the field trips, they count and identify the turtles, birds and marine mammals’ carcasses they find on the beach. In addition, they take pictures of the carcasses and place a biodegradable mark on them to avoid double counting. Finally, they keep a record of their observations for the project through the ArgentiNat platform. Many of the carcasses found belong to penguins. These records provide information about the health state of penguins and the marine ecosystem.

The Gentoo Penguin

Is there a risk concerning this animal in Argentina?

Penguins face several threats. Climate change, which brings about changes in the availability of food in the sea, is the most significant. The ever-increasing frequency and intensity of the heat waves may also affect the survival of the chicks. Other dangers or issues may be related to fishing, unregulated tourism, the poor management of some natural reserves, the presence of dogs or other exotic predators, and the outbreak of zoonotic diseases.

AOTG

In Argentina On The Go we offer several tours of penguin colonies across Patagonia. So, if you wish to add this experience to your adventure, do not hesitate to contact your consultant and/or contact us through our social platforms.