Thursday, November 13, 2008

15 minutes

Isla Caroline, ChileLink
15 minutes. That was how long we had sunny, calm weather.

We had started out towards the open waters of the ocean side of Isla Caroline, before the winds and hail forced us to turn back. A narrow passage through the island was our last option to get to the open ocean facing side of Caroline. About an hour later we were finally there, and the small islands covered in tussock grass looked ideal for southern rockhopper penguins.

Unfortunately, the weather continued to be uncooperative and we were not able to make any landings. We stood on deck with binoculars searching for signs of rockhopper colonies, but nothing definite was seen. Rockhopper penguins were reported in these waters almost 100 years ago by explorers taking refuge at Isla Caroline from a storm at Isla Ildefonso.

Could it be that the southern rockhopper penguin has died out or left this area of Chile? Our boat crew tells us that over the years there has been heavy fishing in this area, an insight that may explain the absence of penguins around Isla Caroline. Over fishing is a major problem facing all species of penguins and has taken a serious toll on their overall population numbers.

The weather starts to turn again and we must leave the exposed, open ocean side of Isla Caroline. Today is the last day for us to search for rockhoppers and we must make our way back to port in Punta Arenas. Although we are disappointed that we were not able to visit all the islands and explore as many penguin colonies we had hoped, such is the nature of working in the field. The wind and rain do not always cooperate, and sometimes the snow and hail make matter worse.

You may get 15 minutes of beautiful sunshine, and then spend the rest of the day shrouded in fog. The only thing you can do is use every moment available to explore and learn about the environment around you, whether it be the penguins you came thousands of miles to study or the gulls nesting right outside of town.



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