An Isolated Archipelago

A land of islets and rocky outcrops in the South Atlantic Ocean host to astounding penguin, seal and albatross populations.

A 700-island Oasis

Where the world’s largest colony of black-browed albatrosses nest on steep cliffs and rockhopper penguins jump from one stone to another.

About the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas)

Set over 300 miles east of Patagonia, the Falkland Islands are in the heart of the South Atlantic Ocean and host to an impressive array of wildlife, from the world’s largest colony of black-browed albatrosses to three species of penguins not found in Antarctica: the golden-haired rockhopper penguin, the black-banded Magellanic penguin, and the tangerine-cheeked king penguin. Though its proximity to Argentina suggests it was once part of South America, scientists believe the islands were once attached to the African continent, leading to theories that the archipelago’s flora and fauna arrived through dispersal.

Host to a similar climate and topography as Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago’s two main islands, East Falkland and West Falkland, are the most commonly traversed, though the archipelago is host to around 700 more rocky islands and islets that cover a nearly4,700 square-mile area.  

With a long history of disputes over the land, the Falkland Islands are marked by times of war. France, Spain, and Argentina have all claimed the Falkland Islands at some point throughout history, though the archipelago has been an overseas territory of the United Kingdom since 1833. Today, the archipelago’s around 3,200 settlers call the capital of Stanley in East Falkland home, while the archipelago’s wildlife on land and sea truly set it apart. Creatures like the rare striated caracara are often sighted circling above the area’s rocky coastline, while marine mammal species like elephant seals, fur seals, and Peale’s dolphins swim throughout the kelp forests of the icy South Atlantic waters.

The Falklands (Malvinas) landscape. Photography by Rodrigo Moraga.
  • Icon of Climate

    Climate

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    Discovery

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    Geography

Wildlife

Penguins

Close up photography of Gentoo penguin in Antarctica, by Ruslan Eliseev.

Whales

Whale jumps out of the waters, in Antarctica. Photography by Jeff Reynolds on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.

Seals

Leopard seal in Antarctica

Seabirds

Profile picture of a Skua sea bird, photographed by Ruslan Eliseev, for Antarctica21.
Adelie penguin in Antarctica. Photography by Anais Rekus.
Chinstrap penguins in Antarctica. Photography by Machu, on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.
A couple of king penguins in the Falklands
Gentoo Penguin in Antarctica. Photography by Anais Rekus on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.
Macaroni penguin in the Falklands
Orcas in Antarctica. Photography by Keegan Pearson, on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.
Whale jump in Antarctica
Minke whale in Antarctica.
Leopard seal in Antarctica. Photography by Ana Carla Martínez.
A young Crabeater seal, photographed by Mathew Farrell on an Antarctica Express Air-Cruise on board Hebridean Sky.
Close up portrait of a seal in South Georgia. Photography by Ruslan Eliseev, for Antarctica21.
A blue-eyed cormorant or blue-eyed shag. Photography by Ruslan Eliseev, on an Antarctica Express Air-Cruise.
Antarctic sea bird, Snowy Sheathbill. Photography by Keegan Pearson, on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.
Polar skua bird stilling a penguin egg. Photography by Ana Carla Martínez on the Inaugural Voyage of Magellan Explorer.
Black-browed albatross in the Falklands
Cape o Pintado Petrel photographed by Mathew Farrell on an Antarctica Express, on board Hebridean Sky.
Adelie penguin in Antarctica. Photography by Anais Rekus.

Adelie Penguin

The Adelie is the archetypical penguin, named after French explorer Dumont D’Urville’s wife. They are purely black and white, with a characteristic angular head, a distinctive white eye-ring and a tiny bill. Females are smaller in size, but like all penguins, the sexes are alike. The downy chick is uniformly grey.

Chinstrap penguins in Antarctica. Photography by Machu, on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.

Chinstrap Pengin

Chinstraps are similar to Adelies in that they are black and white, but they are slightly smaller and have a distinctive black line connecting the black cap to the part below the chin. The chicks are uniform brownish-grey and paler below. On average, the female’s flipper and bill length is smaller than the male’s. They are highly gregarious and monogamous. It is believed they form long-lasting bonds with their mates. They nest in the Antarctic Peninsula area and on Subantarctic Islands. Their population is estimated in 7.5 million pairs, being the second largest of Antarctic inhabitants after the gentoo penguins.

A couple of king penguins in the Falklands

King Penguin

With bright white bellies, tangerine cheeks and bills, and a golden patch parked high on their necks, king penguins are easily spotted not only for their coat and size—they’re only second in stature to the emperor penguin—but also for their dignified, upright posture. With one of the healthiest, populations of penguins in Antarctica, they’re found dispersed throughout most of the region, from the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. These convivial creatures are often seen in immense colonies of up to 200,000, with the entire population estimated at almost 3 million breeding pairs. To keep their great size, king penguins are expert divers, often submerging to 1,000 feet in search of squid, fish, and crustaceans to feed both themselves and their young. Fun fact—mature king penguins look so different from their fluffy, brown-coated chicks they were mistaken as separate species by the continent’s first researchers.

Gentoo Penguin in Antarctica. Photography by Anais Rekus on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.

Gentoo Penguin

Gentoo is the largest of all Pygoscelis penguins. It can be easily recognized by the wide white stripe extending like a bonnet across the top of its head and the red bill. Chicks have grey backs with white fronts. They are the fastest underwater swimming penguins, reaching speeds of 36 km/h. They feed mainly on krill, but also on fish and squid. They are the most numerous penguins nesting in the Antarctic region.

Macaroni penguin in the Falklands

Macaroni Penguin

This beautiful penguin has a characteristic orange tassels meeting between the eyes that distinguish this species from its slightly smaller relative, the rockhopper penguin. Macaronis nest mainly on Subantarctic islands close to the Antarctic Convergence, and may reach as far south as the Antarctic Peninsula. They lay two eggs at the end of the Austral autumn, the first being larger than the second. Chicks are uniform brownish-grey above and whitish below.

Orcas in Antarctica. Photography by Keegan Pearson, on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.

Orca Whale

The orca is the largest member of the dolphin family, and it is probably the most easily recognized of all cetaceans. The most obvious feature is the enormous dorsal fin, which is the tallest and most pointed of any cetaceans. In adult males, it may stand two metres in height, while in females and immature males it is more curved and smaller. They have a striking black and white pattern from throat to abdomen, some of their flanks, and an oval blaze behind the eye white, with the rest mainly black. The huge conical head is pointed with a very slightly rounded beak. Males can reach 7 to 9 metres in length and weigh 3.8 to 5.5 tonnes. Females are noticeably smaller in overall body size, reaching 5 to 7.7 metres length.

Whale jump in Antarctica

Humpback Whale

Humpbacks may be recognized by their enormous flippers, which can reach a third of their total body length. They are normally black, but the undersides of flippers and flukes have varying amounts of white and can be used as aids for individual recognition. They measure 11 to 19 metres and weigh 25.4-35.5 tonnes. Males are usually slightly shorter than females.

Minke whale in Antarctica.

Minke Whale

The southern minke whale is a species of minke whale within the suborder of baleen whales. It is the third smallest baleen whale. While it was first scientifically described in the mid-19th century, it wasn’t recognized as a distinct species until the 1990s. Given that it was ignored by the whaling industry due to its small size and low oil yield, the southern minke was able to avoid the fate of other baleen whales and maintained a large population into the 21st century, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. It has survived to become the most abundant baleen whale in the world.

Elephant Seal

The southern elephant seal is the world’s largest seal. It is a heavy-built, long-body seal with proportionately small flippers and some skin folds just behind the head. The dark eyes are large and round. The adults have short stiff hair, usually dark grey dorsally and paler ventrally. Males have squarer and larger heads, with a conspicuous proboscis, while females have more rounded heads with no proboscis. Breeding males may weigh up to a sixth that of a breeding female. Males can grow to 4.5-6.5 metres and 3,700 kg; females can grow to 2.5-4 metres and between 360-800 kg.

Leopard seal in Antarctica. Photography by Ana Carla Martínez.

Leopard Seal

These seals have long slim bodies, with an almost serpentine appearance and comparatively large reptilian heads with a long snout, powerful jaws, broad gape and relatively small dark eyes. Fore flippers are rather large, situated near the centre of the body. They are coloured with dark on the back, almost black or blue-grey on the flanks, and paler ventral colouration; a light area variably spotted with darker grey. They have very long canine teeth, with long pointed cusps on the molar teeth. Females are larger than males (3.8 metres and 500 kg compared to 2.8-3.8 metres and 300 kg).

A young Crabeater seal, photographed by Mathew Farrell on an Antarctica Express Air-Cruise on board Hebridean Sky.

Crabeater Seal

They are relatively slim and flexible, typically with an elongated, square-shaped head, protruding dog-like snout, a long mouth opening and large flippers. Their eyes are dark and small. Their colouration is predominantly dark brown dorsally becoming blond ventrally, with a marked seasonal and individual variation in coat colour. With age, fur gradually becomes uniformly blond after the moult. Many are deeply scarred on the back and body-sides due to attacks by leopard seals and killer whales. Crabeaters actually eat krill, not crabs, as their name suggests. Males reach about 3 metres in length and females are slightly smaller. They can weigh between 180 to 410 kg.

Close up portrait of a seal in South Georgia. Photography by Ruslan Eliseev, for Antarctica21.

Weddell Seal

This seal species was not discovered until 1823 when Captain James Weddell captured six specimens during his voyage to the South Pole. They are amongst the largest and fattest seals, with proportionately small flippers and heads, and large dark eyes. Both sexes are similar in size and appearance, but females are generally slightly larger, and males have thicker necks and broader heads. They reach 2.5-3 metres and weigh between 400-600 kg. They have a short, dense coat of a dark bluish-grey colour, which is irregularly streaked. They can become browner prior to moult.

A blue-eyed cormorant or blue-eyed shag. Photography by Ruslan Eliseev, on an Antarctica Express Air-Cruise.

Blue-Eyed Shag

There is no clear agreement on how many species of cormorants inhabit the southern islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. There could be as many as seven or as few as two surrounding Antarctica, depending on what taxonomic diversity they have. All are reasonably similar, but the Antarctic shag is unmistakable in range because no other blue-eyed shag overlaps with it. They are rather large and have a black and white shag, with a bright blue-eyed ring, with a long wispy black erectile crest.
Size 77 cm
Wing 32-33 cm
Weight 2.5-3 kg

Antarctic sea bird, Snowy Sheathbill. Photography by Keegan Pearson, on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.

Snowy Sheathbill

The snowy sheathbill is a medium-sized, plump hen-like, all-white bird. They are not seabirds because, for example, their feet are not webbed, but are in their own family akin to waders. They cannot be mistaken for anything else as they strut and squabble around penguin colonies. They have elaborate courtship displays and are monogamous and permanently pair-bonded species. They feed on intertidal life and on invertebrates.
Size 34-40 cm
Wingspan 70 cm
Weight 400-700 gr.
Size 77 cm
Wing 32-33 cm
Weight 2.5-3 kg

Southern Giant Petrel

Giant petrels are the largest of the petrel family, which make up the order of tubenose or procellariiform seabirds, along with albatrosses, shearwaters, storm petrels, and diving petrels. The crucial feature used to distinguish the northern giant petrel from the closely related southern giant petrel is the color of the bill tip: reddish-brown in the northern, and greenish in the southern. This characteristic is not always easy to spot at sea. Some southerns are all white, except for the odd dark feathers. This color phase does not occur in northerns, helping with identification. White phase southerns are more common at southerly breeding sites and are absent at the northerly ones.
Size 85-100 cm
Wing 46-58 cm
Wingspan 150-210 cm
Weight 3.8-5 k
Size 77 cm
Wing 32-33 cm
Weight 2.5-3 kg

Polar skua bird stilling a penguin egg. Photography by Ana Carla Martínez on the Inaugural Voyage of Magellan Explorer.

Polar Skua

The polar skua is able to fly the furthest south of all other Antarctic birds. It is light brown in color with a yellow neck. While flying, you can see a lighter band that crosses the lower surface of the wings. It has a dark beak, which is curved at the end. The feet are dark grey and almost black.
Size 85-100 cm
Wing 46-58 cm
Wingspan 150-210 cm
Weight 3.8-5 kg
Size 77 cm
Wing 32-33 cm
Weight 2.5-3 kg

Black-browed albatross in the Falklands

Black-Browed Albatross

The black-browed albatross is one of the smaller black and white ‘mollymawks’ with a pale head. This albatross can be identified at a distance by its underwing pattern featuring a wide dark leading edge. At close range, the adult birds have a yellow eye that makes identification easy.
Size 80-96 cm
Wing 50-56 cm
Wingspan 210-250 cm
Weight 2.9 to 4.6 kg

Cape o Pintado Petrel photographed by Mathew Farrell on an Antarctica Express, on board Hebridean Sky.

Cape or Pintado Petrel

The cape petrel is an unmistakable medium-sized petrel, with a round head and highly distinctive black and white upperparts and upper wings, smaller than the Antarctic petrel. Its speckled appearance has earned its other common name, pintado, which means ‘painted’ in Spanish. The cape petrel has a circumpolar distribution at sea. It has a wide breeding range from the Antarctic continent to the more southerly Subantarctic islands, where it breeds in November and December in loose colonies on level rocky grounds or gravel, and moderately high cliffs.
Size 35-42 cm
Wing 24-28 cm
Wingspan 80-91 cm
Weight 440-500 gr.

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