The Falklands, Home to Penguins and Seals

Off To See Penguins, Sea Lions and Seals

Tracks across open range in the Falklands
Magellanic Penguin

Deep in the South Atlantic there is an archipelago known as the Falkland Islands. Generally, these are isolated, windswept islands where raising sheep and cattle are the main businesses. Covering about 4,700 square miles, the Falklands has a population of a little over 3,000 pe

The tourist business here is thriving and the main attraction is tours to the isolated coasts to see penguins, seals and sea lions. Stanley, the capital is located on the far eastern tip of East Falkland. It is nestled behind a double natural harbor where most cruise ships anchor, and is the starting point for most excursions.

A Gentoo Rookery

The day we spent in the Falklands, we booked a tour in advance with a local company (Falklands Style Off-road Tours), and went out to Dolphin Cove, about eighty miles from Stanley. The trip was in a 4X4, mostly over dirt roads after leaving Stanley. We traveled almost two hours past ranches and peat bogs and ended with a few miles of open country to the coast. Dolphin Cove is on a private ranch and we were introduced to the woman who manages the property. Just to offer some insight into the people who live here, when asked how often she gets into Stanley, she said about four or five times a year.

A King penguin
A Gentoo rookery

Driving in wheel tracks over open country towards the sea, we started spotting rookeries of mostly Gentoo penguins. Our guide (Wayne McCormick) said that they walk inland, sometimes as far as a mile, to dig their nests. One group of three was in our track and, in trying to run away, they kept right in front of us running at full speed for some distance. (You had to have been there – funny.)

Seals and pups

Our first official stop was at a bluff overlooking a rocky beach and a harem of seals had been giving birth that day. The harem was overseen by a good sized bull and the dark newborn pups were scattered across the rocks with the new moms watching over them. There were also large numbers of buzzards hanging around attracted by the byproducts of the births.

 

Magellanic Penguins coming ashore

Shortly after that, we made a couple of stops near large gentoo rookeries. These birds have no real fear of man and you can actually walk right up to them. The largest group we found seemed to have adopted a King Penguin who stood almost a foot taller than the Gentoos. The Kings look very much like the famous Emperor but they are not as large. We also stopped and watched some Magellanic Penguins come ashore at a rocky area. A Falkland penguin population guide can be found HERE.

Whale bones bleaching in the Sun

We returned to Stanley with a couple of hours to spare before our ship sailed. While it was a long day, it was well worth the effort. We have actually taken tours to see penguins in other parts of the world, but none of them came close to our day in the Falklands.

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Port of Call Stanley, The Falkland Islands

Stanley the Capital of the Falkland Islands

Growing in popularity with cruise ships, the Falkland Islands are located over a thousand miles east of Argentina. The archipelago consists of two main and 776 smaller islands. The capital is Stanley on East Falkland which is home to a majority of the nation’s three thousand residents. The big attraction is the wildlife with some of the world’s largest concentrations of penguins along with seals and sea lions that come to breed and raise their young. It is also a frequent stop for cruise ships visiting Antarctica.

 

Stanley and the inner harbor

Where Your Ship Docks

Stanley is located on a large natural double harbor. Unfortunately, the docking facilities cannot accommodate most cruise ships so, for almost everyone, it is a tender port. The larger ships will most likely anchor in the outer harbor while the smaller ones can anchor closer to the town’s landing.

There are no facilities at the dock but restrooms can be found at the visitor’s center only a block away.

Transportation

Stanley is a very small town and there is little in the way of public transportation. Most visitors book tours out to see the wildlife but you can also visit battlefields and beaches or enjoy a little hiking.

 

Money

Oddly, the Falklands have their own version of the British Pound which probably cannot be exchanged outside of the Falkland Islands. The British government even warns visiting Brits to change it back before heading home. There are no currency exchanges or ATMs in town. Fortunately, many of the businesses will take Pounds, Euros and US Dollars. Ahead of our visit, we arranged with our guide to pay with US dollars and then just confirmed the exchange rate after our tour.

Christ Church Cathedral

Attractions

Penguins in the Falklands

As already noted, the big attraction here is the wildlife and taking a tour is highly recommended. You will also hear a lot about “the war” from the locals and there are a number of sites to visit. In town there is a really nice Falklands National Museum and Christ Church Cathedral has a magnificent whalebone arch which can’t be missed.

A Note of Caution – The Falklands were the focus of a war between Great Britain and Argentina in 1984. When the Argentine military seized the islands they installed over 30,000 land mines along stretches of the coast to stop the British from landing (it was useless). There is still an ongoing project to remove the mines and any marked areas extremely dangerous and should be respected.