Greetings from Punta Tombo!

Below are pictures from the world’s largest Magellanic penguin colony, located at Punta Tombo, Argentina.

They were taken during a one-week volunteer trip in 2006. And hardly a week goes by that I don’t think about it. The trip inspired this short story.

Penguins in their burrow
Penguins evening

Midge and I took part in a volunteer project to assist researchers in counting penguins. It was quite an adventure — and the reason that posts on this blog have been nonexistent for some time.

Penguins walking

Normally, when I think of penguins I think ice and Antarctica. But these little guys dig nests under bushes or right into the ground, without a snowflake in sight. They lay their eggs and raise their chicks until February or so when the whole colony ups and jumps back into the water until the following September.

Penguins swimming

It’s an annual ritual that’s been going on at this particular spot for more than 80 years.

Penguin burrow 2

For more information about the people in charge of this impressive operation check out the project leader Dee Boersma’s Web site.

And how about a few more pictures?

Okay, why not…

Here’s another shot of them swimming. We had a nice vantage point on cliffs above. Penguins look mighty awkward on land, but they move amazing fast once they hit the water.

Another view of the colony…

Here’s a penguin braying. The noise sounds a lot like a donkey, which is why they are sometimes referred to as “jackass penguins.”
penguin braying

And here’s a shot of some team members as we made our way back down from the very tip of Punta Tombo.

It’s quite a windblown landscape.

Okay, last picture, I promise.

This picture is of a penguin the staff had named Turbo because he set up his nest underneath their turbo pickup truck. He was an odd little guy, odd because he would let you pet him without biting off a finger or two, which is what most normal penguins will do. The cat lives at the local ranch; they make an odd couple.
turbo and cat

So how many penguins are there?
I don’t know yet. The researchers are still crunching the numbers. I’ve read estimates of between 200,000 and 500,000 penguins. I’m not sure how you ever get an exact count because at any given time so many of them are out at sea looking for food. And we did not count every single penguin, not by a long shot. The colony, which stretches for at least five miles, was divided into a grid; we would count the numbers of penguins and eggs and report on vegetation just within small circular areas that conformed to this grid. This provided a good sample of the entire colony. Some circles had no penguins while other circles could contain more than 20 or even 40 penguins!

The bad news is that the colony is definitely in a state of decline. That they know for sure.

Here is the web site of the researchers who have studied Punta Tombo for 25 years.

And here is the story inspired by their efforts.

UPDATE: Check out the short story inspired by my visit to Punta Tombo here.

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4 thoughts on “Greetings from Punta Tombo!”

  1. It was surprising to read your newsletter as I usually do and learn you’ve been to my loved Patagonia.
    I am from Esperanza, Santa Fe but not for long… we are moving to Patagonia in less than a month which has been our dream for years.
    If you ever get back here you should contact and visit us in Trevelin (Chubut). 🙂

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