Patagonia is the southernmost region of South America. It spreads across 260,000 square miles of Argentina and Chile. Along with right whales and penguins, the area is famous for guanacos, glaciers, beech trees, sea birds, and a hairy armadillo. Charles Darwin spent much time here during the voyage of the Beagle, examining its geology and fossils. But he was not the first European here. In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan first saw penguins on his trip around the tip of South America, and the region's most plentiful penguin is a named for him.
Today, one million Magellanic penguins have colonies on these shores, and yet they are considered threatened. Why? Oil pollution and spills. Graham Harris, who is with the Wildlife Conservation Society and who grew up in Patagonia, said up to 41,000 penguins a year were dying from oil prior to the mid-1990s. In 1991, a massive spill killed 17,000. "We shamed the oil industry into changing how they work," he said.
|Black Browed Albatrosses|
About 100,000 tourists will travel to Patagonia this year, and the penguins do not seem to mind interacting with them. In fact, those birds closest to trails have more breeding success than penguins in remote areas because they are safer from predators, Harris said.
In 1976, Roger Payne and Bill Conway wrote about Patagonia and right whales for National Geographic magazine and put the place and its conservation needs on the map. Even Lady Diana visited here in 1985.
|A Pinto Petrel|
We have been busy photographing albatrosses and shearwaters that fly in the updraft behind our ship. Especially beautiful are the Cape petrels, with pinto-like markings. Just now, we have pulled into Puerto Madryn and this afternoon will explore a historic Welch village and a famous paleontology museum.