The Falklands contain a fascinating and unique range of wildlife, which may be observed in a natural environment devoid of any pollution. The Atlantic winds, ceaselessly blowing, have brought the species of birds which are today protected.
The deep waters of the South Atlantic, rich in marine life, are the key to the survival of a great variety of species reproducing on the isles. They have favoured the settling of numerous birds such as the giant petrel, the rock cormorant or the striated caracara as well as numerous sea mammals. More than half the species of bird of the isles are largely dependant on the sea for food. So as to preserve this incomparable richness the FIG (Falkland Island Government) has transformed some isles into sea sanctuaries or ornithological reserves to give sufficient protection to most birds and to certain sea mammals.
During the breeding period which occurs approximately from September to April, 63 sorts of bird breed in the Falklands. Three species of penguin only stay temporarily on the isle: the magellanic penguin, the rockhopper penguin and the macaroni penguin, while two species may be observed all year round: the king penguin and the gentoo penguin. The penguins are doubtlessly the most striking animals in the Falklands but other species deserve observation. The isles welcome, for example, the largest population in the world of the Black Browed Albatross estimated at 250’000 couples. The biggest colonies can be found on Saunders Island, easy to get to by plane.
The Patagonian crested duck and the flightless steamer duck meet along the coast often accompanied by kelp goose. The oystercatcher and the black-crowned night heron as well as two sorts of sea gull (dolphin gull, Dominican gull) also feed on the coast.
The fields of tussock (see flora) situated along the coasts are the territory of a race of bird that one only finds in the Falklands or on certain isles around Cape Horn, that's the striated caracara (also called Johnny Rook). Other birds of prey which are more common are also found such as the turkey vulture, the cassin’s falcon and the red-backed buzzard.
In the fresh water of the ponds, especially near the coast, upland goose and ruddy-headed goose are often seen. The common snipe, diverse sorts of grebes and herons also live near these ponds.
Contrary to the king cormorant which nests at the top of steep cliffs, the snowy sheathbill and the two-banded plover prefer sand or pebbles beaches, looking for their food among the colonies of penguins or sea lions.
Inland the species of bird most common are the long tailed meadowlark easily recognisable by its scarlet breast and the more discreet Falkland pipit and Falkland thrush.
The list is much too long to name them all, 63 species reproduce in the Falklands, 23 species regularly visit the isles and 79 occasionally, that's to say 165 different sorts of bird may be observed with more or less luck on the isles.
From the sea mammals point of view, three species of seal reproduce in the Falklands: the elephant seal (or sea elephant), the sea lion and the fur seal. The latter is rarely seen except in a few inaccessible places. Sometimes the leopard seal may been seen on the beaches but it is not known to be installed in the Falklands.
Dolphins and porpoises are often observed. The commerson's dolphin, a very rare black and white species is one of the smallest sea mammals (1,40m) and it weighs 45 kg as an adult. One may also find it near the South America coasts and near the Kerguelen isles. It usually travels in groups of 3 or 4. One also sees, from time to time, killerwhales patrolling off certain isles, but the chances of seeing a whale are much less.
Sealion Islands offers, in our opinion, the best and nearest wildlife. Hardly 10 minutes walk from our lodging, we found ourselves face to face with about a hundred sea elephants peacefully lying on a beach of white sand. Further on, at the bottom of a cliff some sea lions were fighting to control their harem and roaring like... lions! On the birds side, the isle offers big colonies of gentoo penguins, magellanic penguins and also rockhoppers penguins are present. Giant petrel, striated caracara, falcon, cormorant, seagull, heron, grebe, duck, goose and many others complete the list.
Text: © M.Chabod / F. Bettex • Photos: © Fabrice Bettex / Mysterra