Today, I dressed up in black and white in solidarity with my dearest feathered, slithery and loud-mouthed friends, Penguins. Today is World Penguin day (no offense taken if you were not informed), celebrating the many millions of happy-feet who accumulate impressive mileage swimming around the coldest parts of the southern hemisphere.
I became a fan of penguins during my visits to the Falkland Islands, who host a penguin population of over 1 million birds, roughly 333 times the population of Falkland Islanders! Yet the small population of the Falklands have worked to the penguins’ advantage, since the remotely populated islands have guaranteed that penguins maintain their peaceful existence on the Islands.
As the primary organization seeking to preserve their beloved penguin population, Falklands Conservation initiated the Seabird Monitoring Programme in 1989 to monitor their breeding success and determine numbers of penguins living on the Falklands. Five species of penguins live on the Islands (Southern Rockhopper, Gentoo, King, Macaroni and Magellanic penguins), ranging from small populations of 24 pairs of Macaroni penguins to 319,000 breeding pairs of Southern Rockhopper penguins.
As part of our congressional delegation I was lucky to visit Sea Lion Island – a nature reserve that hosts a varied assortment of sea lions, elephant seals, avian life and penguins. Although I never dreamed of it, I sat among a group of very loud Gentoo penguins, who seemed very eager to communicate with me, and it was their squawking which served as my alarm clock the following morning. But the true highlight was watching hundreds of Rockhopper penguins bask in the sunshine on the cliffs, drying off after searching for food during the day. The surfing skills of the Rockhopper is impressive and frightening, gliding with waves toward the cliffs, hoping to be propelled onto shore. Many of my friends have been forced to watch endless iPhone penguin footage – clearly this resonated with me as an unforgettable moment.
So, what can we do on World Penguin Day, besides the obligatory shout out to other penguin fans (among them, Ambassador Westmacott)? You can support the efforts of Falklands Conservation, who are currently engaged in research projects to protect two species of penguin. The Rockhopper penguins, although highly represented in the Falkland Islands, suffered a mass starvation and a harmful algae bloom, which killed many adults. In recent years, King penguin populations have also dropped quite significantly, due to marine predators which have depleted their once-strong population. As a result, Falklands Conservation seeks to uncover these ‘hot spots’ which leave King Penguins vulnerable.
Last, Falklands Conservation provides the opportunity to adopt a penguin to help ensure the protection of penguins and their environment. Although penguins typically mate for life, only a year-long commitment is required to support a King Penguin living in Volunteer Point, just a short distance from the capital, Stanley. Who knows, maybe your luck will also afford you the chance to meet Peter the Penguin in his natural habitat.