Magellanic Penguins
The Punta Tombo reserve in Patagonia is home to the world's largest colony of Magellanic penguins. Spending much of their lives in the water, these penguins return yearly to the Patagonian coast to court, breed, and raise their young.

Approximately half of the colony of penguins that nest at Punta Tombo burrow underground. Males arrive prior to the females, preparing and settling into their old nests. When the females arrive, they search out their lifelong mate through a series of calls and a chorus of answers. After an elaborate courtship, the female will lay one egg, and both male and female will share the two month incubation. Once the baby penguin, or chick, hatches, the parents will forage for food, feeding the chick by regurgitation until it can fend for itself. After the chicks learn to swim, the family will return to the ocean and migrate north to southern Brazil.

When the immature penguins return to Punta Tombo the following year, they will molt their feathers, and breeding will once again resume.

Conservation Efforts
The Magellanic penguin population has experienced a significant decline in the past decade. Close to half a million penguins could be found on Patagonian shores about nine years ago and now numbers reach only about 325,000 -- almost 35 percent less.

Humans are largely to blame for the population drop. Depletion of fishing stocks that the penguins feed on accounts for part of the decline, and there is currently no policy that keeps overfishing in check. Oil slicks also contribute to the mounting number of penguin deaths, and safety standards are still seriously flawed.

Revitalization of the species is a slow process, since penguins are monogamous and may take up to two years to mate with a new partner, and females lay only one egg each year. In response to the growing wildlife dangers and concerns in Patagonia, two organizations were implemented to lead conservation efforts, the Fundacion Patagonia Natural (FPN) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The Fundacion Patagonia Natural is dedicated to protecting the region's natural resources and is leading an effort that would create a sea reserve at Punta Tombo and extend a fishing ban until reserves are replenished.

Working toward the same goal, the Wildlife Conservation Society is dedicated to wildlife conservation, and in 1982 established the Magellanic Penguin Project. Project director Dee Boersma and her team study and monitor the penguin population, keep tourism in check, and train others about conservation efforts to sustain the penguins and other wildlife of Argentina.

Interesting Facts

  • Penguins only live in the southern half of the world because they will not cross into warm ocean currents from cold Antarctic waters.
  • Penguins lost their ability to fly millions of years ago after their wings developed into flippers.
  • Penguins will fearlessly protect their young from predators.
  • Some Magellanic penguins may migrate 3000 miles round-trip between Brazil and Patagonia.

Want to Learn More?

  • To read what an expert has to say about Magellanic penguin migration, go to Meet the Experts.

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