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Project Background

Global Penguin Society (GPS) is a grassroots non-profit based in Puerto Madryn, Argentina who are supported in their efforts by the Wildlife Conservation Network. GPS works on the conservation of all 18 penguin species worldwide. This project aims to protect the Magellanic species, which lives in GPS’ backyard and home turf.

Shy and small, Magellanic penguins live in Patagonia, where they were named after the Portuguese explorer whose crew spotted these striped little birds in 1520.  The project will enable scientists to protect a newly-established penguin colony in Pedral, a wildlife preserve just east of the popular beach town of Puerto Madryn. This reserve is also home to sea lions, elephant seals, rheas, and guanacos – extending the protection to other important wildlife in Argentina.

In 2008, GPS had the privilege of watching an extremely rare event: the birth of A new penguin colony. After years of conservation and protection measures, penguins finally began arriving on the beaches of Pedral. The fledgling colony grew from 6 penguin pairs in 2008 to over 2,000 pairs today. This is a wildlife conservation success story!

Despite the success of this colony, Magellanic penguins aren’t out of the woods – they are still threatened by the effects of climate change, which have displaced the fish that they need to survive.  These tiny birds – only 45cm (18 inches) tall – now have to swim an extra 80km (50 miles) to forage for anchovies, squid, and crustaceans. This makes life hard for these small penguins, meaning that penguin parents take much longer to return to a nest where an incubating mate or baby penguin chick is waiting for food. Having to swim longer distances for food threatens their long term survival.

GPS is working hard with local environmental authorities to maintain a safe nesting and breeding space for these penguins so that they can live and thrive. With your help, we can ensure that these penguins and their entire species has a future.

Project Activities & Overview

Global Penguin Society, with support from the Wildlife Conservation Network, will help maintain and protect this new penguin colony by monitoring their health and working with local landowners to ensure that the preserve remains free from development. 

GPS will conduct ongoing censuses of this new colony, counting the number of nests, eggs, chicks, and penguin pairs are present throughout the year. This will help reserve authorities understand how the colony is growing and what their needs are in order to stay safe and thrive. It’s extremely unusual to have access to a virtually brand new colony and scientists have much to learn about colony occupation patterns, and the dynamics of how a new penguin colony grows – all critical information to understand their habitat needs.  

We’ll also use satellite technology to track penguins when they are out at sea to understand their feeding routes – which will help us understand “feeding highways” that penguins use most often.  This is also very important to help us understand which parts of the marine habitat need protection.

Visitors to Puerto Madryn can also get involved in conservation action. Magellanics have the advantage of being insanely cute – and are notorious feather-shedders!  People love to visit penguin colonies, and just a short trip down from Puerto Madryn, visitors can walk through this new penguin colonies and help conduct visual census of penguin nests, eggs, chicks, and pairs.

GPS will also work with Argentina’s Ministry of the Environment and Education to coordinate trips for local schoolchildren to visit the area, so that they can learn about the many other wildlife species in their own backyards.  For many, it will be the first time that they see penguins, elephant seals, sea lions, rhea, and other native Patagonian wildlife species. The future is in the hands of the next generation, so it’s very important to educate them on the importance of protecting the environment and marine habitats.

Project Partners & Community Involvement

There is an ecotourism operation that allows tourists to visit the penguin colony, walk along the beach to observe many coastal birds and mammals species, walk along trails to observe fossils and enjoy great landscapes. Accommodation is available in an antique house and there are also other excursion available to visit regional attractions such as whale watching navigation.

We conduct science to provide a base for our conservation actions and adapt local habitat management plans, regulating the numbers of visitors and the dynamics of the tour, providing a model where ecotourism and conservation coexist. We organize cleaning campaign to remove garbage from the colony and coasts before penguins arrive to breed.

We work together with the managers of El Pedral Hotel and the owners of the land on which penguins breed, nest, and feed. We also work with the Ministry of Environment and Education to coordinate the school trips to the area.

Fun Facts about Magellanic Penguins

  • The penguins were named after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, whose crew first spotted the penguins in 1520.
  • Magellanic penguins are extremely shy when they are not used to people.  When approached by humans or dogs, they will run and hide in burrows that they have dug into the sand. 
  • When Magellanic penguins get too hot, they pant like a dog and lift their flippers outward to release body heat.

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