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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Field Note: Stealing Dirt

Published: March 23, 2018


By Mark Seth Lender


The colony of gentoo penguins on Carcass Island in the Falkland Islands. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth's Resident Explorer Mark Seth Lender reflects on the overcrowding of a gentoo penguin colony on Carcass Island, of the Falkland Islands.

The crowding of the gentoo penguin colony on Carcass Island begs the question: Why? That the penguins choose a place high enough and dry enough not to by washed away, but still conveniently close to the sea makes sense. Almost the entirety of the low shelf above the beach conforms to these criteria yet only a small area is chosen, two subcolonies of birds, on either side of a vacant area between them that was probably the original core of the settlement. That central area is worn out, so deep now that it floods in rain. Hence the separation as the birds were forced to the edges.

None of which explains the large vacant areas that surround the colony and which are in all apparent respects identical in situation.

Maybe the reason is not one of choice. Maybe it is a matter of chance. When my grandfathers emigrated to America they went to live where their elder brothers lived and very importantly where there were other people like them: Russian Jews. Perhaps the first pair of gentoos came here at random (just as both my grandfathers’ elder brothers did). Followed by… everyone else. And the crowding, a simple function of going where others went before you.

What then of the division into those two subcolonies? The original place of immigration being worn out and done, is the moving out the gentoo penguin equivalent of… moving to suburbs?

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Click here to see and hear Mark Seth Lender's essay "Stealing Dirt"

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