Get to Know the Wildlife of South Georgia & the Falklands Islands
Antarctica21 Expedition Business Development Manager, Laura Gerwin, walks us through her days in South Georgia and the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), and how the mesmerizing richness of wildlife took her breath away.
When Antarctica21 Business Development Manager Laura Gerwin first went to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), she was spellbound by the area’s massive concentration of wildlife, “You’re completely surrounded and immersed by it—it’s even better than a safari!”
Not only was she mesmerized by the sheer number of penguins, with some colonies of king penguins hovering around 200,000 or more, but she was also surprised by the surreal combination of sounds in the area. At times, she felt like she was listening to a musical, with the constant melody of birds, penguins, and seals melding to form like an idyllic wildlife orchestra.
Some of her favorite wildlife interactions in the region included watching giant elephant seals battle it out for their position on the beach and claim the right to breed with the female harem. She was also surprised by how many seabirds there were—as far as her eyes could see. But, above all, her most beloved memory of traveling to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands was watching king penguins getting in and out of the crashing waves as they beat into the shore. “They go out to fish and perfectly time their dives with the waves, just like human surfers,” recounts Gerwin. This, combined with the bright turquoise water, left her in awe of the region.
While no two departures to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands are the same, and wildlife sightings always tend to vary, there are many wildlife species that call the area home. Here are some of the fascinating creatures you could see on an expedition with us!
King, Gentoo, Magellanic, and Rockhopper Penguins
By far, one of the most coveted species to see during an expedition to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands is the king penguin. You can spot them thanks to their large size and upright posture and also because of their markings: They have bright white bellies, tangerine cheeks and bills, and a golden patch high on their necks. This species is one of the healthiest in terms of population numbers in all of South Georgia. They can be found dispersed throughout many locations in the region and are often found in immense colonies of up to 350,000 or more, with the entire population estimated at almost 3 million breeding pairs.
While not found in as massive of colonies as king penguins, gentoo penguins are also present in the area. They’re mostly found on Bleeker Island within the greater Falklands Islands (Islas Malvinas), and they can be easily recognized by the wide white stripe extending like a bonnet across the top of its head and the red bill. Passengers could also see Magellanic penguins, named after the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, noted for the two black bands that run across their white bellies, as well as Rockhopper penguins, a species with a distinct thin yellow crest that extends backward from their red eyes.
“White, blue, black, and grey dominate the landscape in Antarctica, as do black and white animals,” says Gerwin, which is an aspect of the landscape that especially intrigues photographers. “But in South Georgia, especially the Falklands Islands, there are colors everywhere: bright green moss, golden flowers, and peachy lichen.’’
The Falkland Islands is home to the majority of the black-browed albatross on the planet, with the population estimated at 680,000 pairs. The area is the most important breeding colony for the species, a seabird that can live 30 years or more and can be spotted far away thanks to its underwing pattern featuring a wide dark leading edge. At close range, the adult birds have yellow eyes which makes identification easy.