Goodbye Glacier Skua

The western coast of Patagonia – pressed, on the one side, by a formidable range of mountains and ice fields; and, to seaward, by the frigid Humboldt current sweeping up from most nether regions of the planet – is more often than not an exception to the rule when it comes to climatic phenomena. One of these exceptions is that it harbours glaciers, reaching down into the sea, which are much closer to the tropics than any others in existence: Chile’s northern-most glacier, at around 46°S, would at the same latitude – if the planet could be inverted – have the balmy waters of the Mediterranean lapping around its foot.

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A Developing Desert

(Photo by Jill Schinas)

Within the tortuous maze of islands and channels which makes up Chile’s inhospitable coastline is the small town of Puerto Eden, which has the somewhat dubious distinction of being the settlement with the highest rainfall on earth. But when we arrived in our current location of Puerto Natales, less than two hundred miles along the coast from Eden, we found scrawny cattle attempting to graze on arid, brown plains of dry grass. We recently watched the first few days of spring melt away all the snow from the nearby mountain tops; and some of the locals expressed doubt as to whether they would ever see it return with the coming winter. Over the previous four or five years they’ve seen progressively hotter weather, with less and less rain, and it seems only reasonable to expect the trend to continue. Continue reading

Whales and Killer Whales

Canal White (2)

It was about a year ago that people first began to notice something going drastically wrong on the Pacific shores of South America. In Golfo de Penas, a massive bay on the coast of southern Chile, dead Sei whales were being discovered – not just in ones or twos but strewn along the beaches throughout the area. Nobody could provide any explanation for what the animals had even been doing there, tucked into inshore channels and minute coves; and how many there were throughout the entire unpopulated and little-visited area was anybody’s guess. It was only from a plane that the extent of the damage was eventually ascertained – 340 corpses were located in the first estimate, these alone forming the largest whale-stranding in recorded history. Continue reading

Beavering Away


It all began in 1946. Argentina was facing a plummeting economy and massive social unrest, and the country was open to exploring just about any new possibilities – even possibilities such as Juan Perón, who first came into power the same year. It was then that the government made a rather desperate attempt to provide a quick fix for the economy, and the effects, while not as immediately obvious as those of the notorious president, are still becoming ever-more problematic to this day. An unusual shipment flown in from the other end of the world was delivered to the south of Argentina: fifty live Canadian beavers. Continue reading

A Bad Year for the Birds

(Photo by Jill Schinas)

We had just spent two months cruising around the Chilean canals in the region of the glaciers, and having returned to Puerto Williams we decided to wander over to the long spit opposite the town in order to visit the seagull colony. The location is a nesting site for two varieties of sea bird: the black and white kelp gull (Larus dominicanus) – a species which is common and widespread – and the dolphin gull (Leucophaesus scoresbii), a much smaller, dusky-grey bird with a striking red beak and legs. Although we’d witnessed the beginning of the bird’s breeding season, we knew that by now most of the young ones would already have fledged.

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