National Geographic : 1956 Mar
People and Penguins of the Faraway Falklands An Ornithologist Explores Britain's Remote South Atlantic Colony and Films the Life of the Islands' Feathered Sobersides BY OLIN SEWALL PETTINGILL, JR. 387 With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author F ROM the rail of the steamer Fitzroy, as she plowed steadily toward the bottom of the world, we marveled at the spout ing of whales and the long-winged gliding of albatrosses. Giant fulmars dipped and wheeled in our wake. The black-and-white wings of Cape pigeons made bold patterns against deep-blue water. Then, hundreds of miles from any land, we spotted our first penguin-a small torpedo like shape that suddenly broke the surface and then shot downward with incredible speed. It was hard to believe that this could be a bird-especially the dignified bird that always wears its formal evening clothes!* "Noah's Ark" Links Colony to World What better star for a Walt Disney movie than the feathered sobersides of the Southern Hemisphere? To film him on his home grounds for a new Disney True Life Adven ture feature called "Islands of the Sea," my wife and I spent four months in the Falkland Islands, one of Great Britain's most remote outposts (map, page 393). Penguins and other birds outnumber the Crown Colony's 2,200 or so humans by many hundreds of thousands. About 12 times a year the Fitzroy calls at Montevideo, Uruguay, to pick up passengers, mail, and freight for the Falklands, some 300 miles east of the Strait of Magellan and 800 miles north of Palmer Peninsula, Antarctica. The 855-ton ship is the colony's only regular link with the outside world (page 410). Most of our 25 fellow passengers were homeward bound from holidays in England, returning with obvious joy to their island sheep farms and professions. To us it was remarkable that these cultured, well-dressed folk were happy to be sailing home to a bleak, treeless little world where a howling gale blows one day out of every five or six. On our voyage the Fitzroy's cargo included sheep, some chickens, a few canaries, and a dog. "She's another Noah's Ark," said the skip per, Capt. F. W. White. Five days out of Montevideo, on a dark October night of wind, rain, and bitter cold, the Fitzroy deposited us and our gear on the jetty at Stanley, the colonial capital on East Falkland Island. Here true British reserve asserted itself; friends and relatives greeted one another as casually as if they had been separated for a day instead of months. Bird Secrets Revealed We were welcomed by Edwin M. Cawkell, the colony's Director of Public Education and an accomplished amateur ornithologist. After a short, rough trip in a jeeplike British Land Rover, we enjoyed tea before a peat fire in the Cawkell living room while we outlined plans for our film work. On his official rounds during three years in the Falklands, Mr. Cawkell had visited even the most isolated sheep farms. Always he had found time for birds; he knew where the principal penguin colonies could be found and which were the most accessible for our purposes. He realized that we needed to live close to penguin colonies so that we could work with them day after day. This meant leaving Stanley for extended periods and * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "A Naturalist in Penguin Land," by Niall Rankin, Janu ary, 1955, and "Nature's Clown, the Penguin," by David Hellyer and Malcolm Davis, September, 1952. The Author A teacher of ornithology at the University of Michi gan Biological Station since 1938, Maine-born Dr. Pettingill has also had a distinguished career as author, lecturer, and wildlife photographer. He has lectured for the National Audubon Society from the time the Audubon Screen Tours were instituted in 1943. Thou sands of students have seen his instructional films of birds or used his college textbook A Laboratory and Field Manual of Ornithology. For the Audubon So ciety and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he made an intensive study of the whooping crane in 1945, and his findings aided in the fight to save this diminishing species from extinction. All of the author's photographs illustrating this article are reproduced through the courtesy of Walt Disney Productions, since they were taken while on assignment to obtain scenes for a new True Life Adventure film, "Islands of the Sea." Many of Dr. Pettingill's sequences appeared in "Nature's Half Acre," "Water Birds," and "The Vanishing Prairie."