Penguins – one of the most charismatic and charming birds on the planet, and yet very few people ever get the chance to see them. They are not enigmatic, nor are they rare, for the most part. And yet, the majority of people are under the impression that the only penguins living today are the Emperor Penguins, and that they live in the Arctic region. However, not only are the emperors one in over twenty extant species, but no penguins whatsoever live in the Arctic region. In fact, no penguins at all even live in the northern hemisphere – all are native to the southern hemisphere, but not exclusively in icy-cold climates such as Antarctica. They are spread over the entire hemisphere, with significant populations on the east coast of South America, the entire Sub-Antarctic, Oceania, and various islands on the Indian and Pacific oceans.
While penguins aren’t themselves hunted or otherwise exploited, they are unfortunately affected, often significantly, by human activities. The Falkland Islands, once home to the largest population of Magellanic penguins in the world, has lost over 90% of the population since the late 80’s, when commercial fishing became commonplace around the islands. Their unique dense feather structure creates a waterproof layer that acts as a natural wet-suit. Even a small amount of oil from fishing boats can open up channels for water to penetrate the penguin’s most important survival feature, making them extremely vulnerable to any exposure to oil. Fortunately, various initiatives have begun protecting and ensuring the population growth of penguins in and around the Straits of Magellan. The island where the following photographs were taken in Chile, Isla Magdalena, is one of these protected areas. For over 10 years, the island reserve has been under scientific surveillance (and also hosts thousands of tourists each year) to monitor and analyze the well-being of the penguin population (the largest colony in Chile) in respect to tourist activities. Happily, it has been found that despite the large number of visitors, the penguin population continues to thrive and grow.