The Kings of Tierra del Fuego.

Bahia Inutil. Useless Bay. The name isn’t very inviting. The British gave it that name in the late 1800s because they believed the bay provided no area useful for a port. Never mind that a small port was eventually established in Porvenir (Spanish for future). The discovery of gold deposits helped convince the Chileans and Croatian immigrants that a port was indeed feasible. Today, Porvenir, Chile’s southernmost town, is the provincial capital of Terra del Fuego (land of fire, although we never saw any; more like land of wind). The regular gold is almost gone, but black gold has taken it’s place. Today, Porvenir and it’s neighboring town of Cerro Sombrero (hat hill) are busy oil towns, with fishing and sheep farming also present. Oh, and a maximum security prison.

"Useless Bay" Well, someone is using it.

“Useless Bay” Well, someone is using it. Shipwrecks in the port prevent larger ships from mooring.

Oil City. Most of the vehicles in Cerro Sombrero are from the national oil company.

Oil City. Most of the vehicles in Cerro Sombrero are from the national oil company, ENAP

Southern South America.

Southern South America.

Porvenir and Useless Bay have recently seen a boost in tourism as well, due in large part to a recent discovery south of town, along the shores of the bay. In 2011, a colony of King Penguins reestablished here after what local elders say has been decades of absence. Today, the number of penguins has been as high as 150. However, these penguins, the second largest species behind the Emperor, are having a tough time taking root. Much of the area of Terra del Fuego is privately owned and used for sheep farming. The land the penguins are living on is no different, and until recently the penguins had little protection from human encounters. Thankfully, the owners of the land, Estancia Tres Hermanos, have allowed a park to be established and now ‘park rangers’ remain on site to collect park fees and provide some protection. According the the park ranger, humans have made unauthorized access to the park at night and have touched and fed the penguins, including the young. The adult penguins have in some cases abandoned these young due to the contact. When it isn’t humans, foxes have hunted the young. In order for the colony to be considered established, several life cycles must be completed at this site. At present, it is not known if the penguins will survive long term or simply abandon this area. 

The colony along the shores of the bay. As many as 150 have been counted.

The colony along the shores of the bay. As many as 150 have been counted.

Taking a stretch.

Taking a stretch.

Penguinos Rey, or King Penguins on a remote corner of Isla Grande, Terra del Fuego, Chile. The penguins approached our group, which forced us back, ever so carefully.

Penguinos Rey, or King Penguins on a remote corner of Isla Grande, Terra del Fuego, Chile. The penguins approached our group, which forced us back, ever so carefully.

Taking watch.

Taking watch.

 

We were lucky to get up and personal, as the penguins approached us for inspection. We retreated as best we could, to stay clear.

We were lucky to get up and personal, as the penguins approached us for inspection. We retreated as best we could to stay clear. It was exhilarating and yet troubling at times as we felt we were too invasive.

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6 thoughts on “The Kings of Tierra del Fuego.

  1. This is GREAT, Matt. Send me your email and I’ll send our Shutterfly albums. Saw your Mom this week and she seems good – nearly finished packing. xxoo

  2. Thanks for liking my blog. Your article about these penguins in quite interesting. I visited a place in New Zealand where “hides” had been built underground so people could watch the penguins without disturbing them.

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