Saturday, November 1, 2008

6,600 miles

Logan Airport, Boston

In two hours I board the first of three Linkplanes that will take me to the southern most city in the world. Punta Arenas, Chile is just over 6,600 miles away from Boston and will be the starting point of my work with the Feather Link research team. Feather Link has been coming to southern Patagonia since 2005 in order to study southern rockhopper penguins. Southern rockhoppers breed in southern Argentina and Chile, as well as the Falkland Islands. They have been well studied in both Argentina and the Falklands, but due to the harsh conditions in the fjords and channels of southern Chile little is known about exact breeding locations and their overall population in the country.

Unfortunately, southern rockhopper penguins are listed as a species vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and have seen dramatic population declines of at least 30% over the last 30 years. Chile is estimated to have at least 1/3 of the remaining population of southern rockhoppers and the Feather Link researchers have found many previously unknown colonies during their work in prior years. This year we hope to seek out more undiscovered colonies and gather information that will help to secure protected breeding areas for the southern rockhopper penguin.

For me, this trip will be my first experience working in the field and my first opportunity to see penguins in the wild after many years of working with them at the New England Aquarium. "Excited" doesn't even begin to explain how thrilled I am to be on this trip and hope that the next 24 hours of traveling goes by fast, because I can't wait to get started!

See you in South America!

- Caitlin


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