Well into this very cold winter—though still far from its end—I like to dream about the summer that’s happening some other place now, down at the bottom of the world.
Both of these landscape-and-wildlife-rich spots in the southern hemisphere have extraordinary natural and human history. It’s no wonder these faraway realms have captivated adventurers, explorers, naturalists, photographers and scientists for centuries. When you travel there, you feel the thread that runs from the present day to the past, connecting you with those who have gone before in marveling at the entertaining penguin colonies and the magnificent mountains and ice fields, and making you feel as if you’re walking in those others’, rare footsteps.
So, before the austral summer comes to an end, let’s go on a journey south—by way of nature-videos—to the Falkland Islands and Port Lockroy, Antarctica.
The islands: elephant seals and the Endurance
Windswept and almost treeless, the Falklands are made up of two main islands, East Falkland and West Falkland, as well as hundreds of smaller islands and islets. Its 2,900 residents are English-speaking and consist primarily of Falklanders of British descent.
The Falklands have a storied history, from a whaling station to a ship-repair port after rough Drake Passage voyages, and from a refueling stop for steamships bound for Cape Horn to a role in the epic tale of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Endurance expedition of 1914–1916. In the 19th century, English and Scottish immigrants arrived with sheep, setting the stage for the wool that is produced here to this day.
Also called the Islas Malvinas by Argentina, which contests Britain for claim to the islands, the Falklands’ ocean-battered, rugged cliffs and isolated shores are home to about 65 species of birds, including blue-eyed shags, Falkland pipits, peregrine falcons, flightless steamer ducks and striated caracaras. The Falklands host the world’s largest black-browed albatross colony and are breeding grounds for several million penguins—mostly gentoo, Magellanic and rockhopper, with smaller numbers of king and macaroni penguins.
There are no longer any land mammals indigenous to the Falklands; the wild fox has become extinct. But marine mammals, such as dolphins and porpoises, are common, and southern sea lions and elephant seals are also numerous.
The port: penguins and a post office
About 900 miles directly south of the Falkland Islands, the Antarctic Peninsula—the northernmost part of mainland Antarctica—stretches out its icy finger. And Port Lockroy is in the heart of it.
During a 1903–1905 expedition, French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot found that the bay was a safe place to anchor and shelter from harsh storms. He named the area after Edouard Lockroy, the politician who helped him finance his voyage.
In the early 20th century, as nations around the world started to claim ownership of parts of Antarctica, the British realized they needed a permanent presence on the peninsula if they were to actively protect their claim. In 1944, as part of a wartime mission code-named Operation Tabarin, they shipped down two wooden huts called Base A (Port Lockroy) and Base B (Deception Island). At Port Lockroy, they set up a post office and carried out scientific studies on the atmosphere and radio communications. Base A closed in 1962, when the research operations were relocated to larger and more modern bases.
The Base A building soon fell into disrepair. In 1996, however, it was restored to its 1950s state. Port Lockroy is now maintained as an historic site by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust, which also looks after five other historic bases on the peninsula.
Today, you can still send a postcard from Base A to loved ones around the world. While half of Port Lockroy is dedicated to the museum and the post office, the other half is reserved for penguins and the study of them.
Watch the two, short videos below. They’re both from Richard Sidey’s Speechless series. The first was shot on New Island in the Falkland Islands, where you can watch the penguins as they occasionally squabble and leap dramatically into the sea. In the second video, you’ll get a glimpse into the natural world at Port Lockroy, Antarctica.
I’m hopeful that spring will finally arrive in the northern hemisphere later this month. But for now, it’s nice to know that animals who are far better adapted to cold weather than I am are enjoying another summer, somewhere.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,