Researchers don’t know exactly how or where penguins get their food, because it happens beneath the ocean. Join a team of scientists making cutting-edge use of technology solve this mystery, which could have important implications how we work to conserve this beloved bird.
Travel to the rookeries—nesting colonies—on the dramatic rocky shores of Argentina’s Golfo San Jorge to investigate. Spend your days in a national park, getting up close and personal with penguins in a colony with about 9,000 breeding pairs.
While the land within the national park has government protection, most of the waters off its coast don’t—which is why researchers need to document where these charming birds go and what they do out at sea. With that knowledge, they can understand which parts of the ocean most need protection to keep penguin populations strong.
Travelers will help tag penguins and map the location of each nest in the colony. They will also select 50 or so sets of penguin parents to track with sophisticated underwater cameras and GPS devices. Volunteers will help mount these devices, which will capture every move the penguins make. For the first time, researchers will get a detailed picture of how and where this bird population forage and feed their young.
Scientists selected this particular colony as the focus of their work because it’s in the center of penguin colonies along the coast of Patagonia. So far, their research has shown that penguins to the north and south of the focal colony seem better fed and healthier, while those to the center have higher chick mortality and generally less healthy chicks.
Their theory? Northern and southern penguins have more nearby food sources than the penguins along the center, which have to swim further expending more energy to get to their distant prey. This means the penguins in the middle colonies are also leaving their chicks unsupervised for longer periods of time, and bringing home fewer meals when they do come back to the colony.
By studying the colony in the middle, scientists can investigate factors that could be helping or harming colonies on either side. They will also study how the food availability and proximity impacts the survival and health of penguin chicks. With this information, these researchers can identify the areas of the ocean that should get government protection to keep essential penguin habitats safe.
Trips run 7 days in duration, and include all meals, shared accommodations, scientist-led training, and assists with the ongoing sustainability of the program. Rates from approximately $2500/person (may fluctuate with currency exchange).
What to Expect?
Patagonia, Argentina’s southernmost region, is rich in wildlife and open, unsettled land. Its striking rocky shores provide a home to many species of seabirds, including cormorants, terns, and petrels. You will work within the Parque Interjurisdiccional Marino Costero Patagoina Austral, an expanse of protected coastline that has preserved much of the area’s untamed beauty. The protected status of the land does only extend a mile into the ocean itself.
In the water you might catch a glimpse of a dolphin or sea lion. And if you make the trip to nearby Peninsula Valdez from June through early December, you’ll see southern right whales—this is one of their main breeding spots. On land, visitors often spot unusual creatures like the rhea, the largest bird in South America, or the guanaco, a relative of the camel known for its thick, wooly coat.
Spend your days surrounded by penguins as you survey their nests, monitor their chick development and attach tiny devices to them. You will help the researchers:
• Map the penguin colony. The first team will help immensely with setting up the project; that means you will walk the entire penguin colony, mapping the location of every nest and taking a census of the penguins. You’ll also help the researchers tag penguins.
• Monitor specific penguin pairs. The first team will also help pick about 50 breeding pairs to track throughout the study. The remaining teams will return to these penguins’ nests every day to monitor their behavior and count the number of eggs and hatchlings at each nest.
• Deploy tracking devices. Beginning when penguin chicks are about two weeks old (mid- to late November), teams will help safely attach tracking devices that record the penguins’ every move in the water. They’ll also make sure to get those devices back once penguins return from their foraging trips.
• Data entry and analysis. You’ll help log the critical observational data you collect and learn how to analyze the videos and graphs from the tracking devices.
• Identify giant petrels. The scientists are also researching another important ocean bird—the giant petrel. You’ll help them sort through the images they’ve collected and help with census from images.
Note: Hatchlings don’t emerge until early November, so volunteers who join before then won’t see any chicks or help to deploy any devices. They will still see plenty of adult penguins.
Participants will stay in small shared cabins overlooking the sea with shared bedrooms in the small Argentine town of Camarones. As the name suggests - it translates to “shrimp” in English - the village has a strong fishing tradition, and you’ll find plenty of delicious, fresh seafood in local shops and restaurants.
The town is a short drive from beautiful coastline, including where you’ll spend your research days.
You will have meals with your team at the cabin’s shared kitchen, and an occasional meal at a restaurant in town. You will take a packed lunch into the field each day. Following Argentinian custom, the team will eat late (around 9 p.m.) in the evening, and enjoy some of the country’s famed seafood, meat, and empanadas.
- Program ID: # 2582
- duration: 1 to 2 Weeks
- location: ChubutUnited States42° 43' 38.5572" S, 65° 4' 11.3664" WUS
- Fitness level: Light ImpactModerately FitVery Fit
- Closest Airport: El Calafate
- Costs From: $1500 to $3000
- Program Type: Environmental & Wildlife Programs
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