Sea Lion Island
For wildlife-lovers who can afford it, compact Sea Lion Island offers more in a smaller area than any other destination in the Falkland Islands. Five miles long and barely a mile wide, with landscapes ranging from broad sandy beaches to rocky tussock-topped cliffs, it can boast 47 breeding bird species (including three penguins and five predators), plus large breeding colonies of elephant seals and sea lions.
Sea Lion’s single most impressive feature may be the sprawling mixed colonies of rockhopper penguins and king cormorants—for both their visual impact and their odor—but the most exciting one may be the dense plantations of native tussock grass that sometimes conceal the bull sea lions that gave the island its name. An unexpected encounter with these large, fierce beasts can be disconcerting.
In the summer breeding season, some 2,000 elephant seals nearly blanket the sandy beaches within a few minutes’ walking distance of the island’s comfortable lodge. Frequenting the nearby tussock, the striated caracara or Johnny rook (Phalcoboenus australis) is one of the world’s rarest predatory birds, but it’s remarkably tolerant of the human presence.
Owned by the Falkland Islands Development Corporation (FIDC), Sea Lion has very few sheep since its 1990s purchase from Terry and Doreen Clifton, who had restored the native tussock for both wildlife habitat and controlled grazing. In 1986, FIDC chose Sea Lion for the Islands’ first dedicated wildlife lodge, where those who are staying only a day can see a bit of everything, while those spending several days can orient themselves and then choose where they wish to concentrate their efforts.
Under a 150-year lease, a British company now operates Sea Lion Lodge (tel. 32004, fax 32003, www.sealionisland.com, £90-145 pp with full board). Purpose-built from a kit, with a Chilean cook and mostly Chilean staff, the 19-bed lodge is probably the most economically successful of the Islands’ wildlife destinations. Rates vary seasonally, with the highest November through March.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition