The Falkland Islands and South Atlantic
PENGUINING History, rockhoppers walking


Penguining - boiling penguins for oil, was a ghastly subsidiary industry of sealers, often used to 'top up' dwindling seal oil supplies.

American sealers were the first to take penguin oil from the Falklands in the 1820's, 'topping up'. By 1864 the industry peaked with 7 vessels operating in the islands. Arch, Bird and Speedwell Islands were decimated and 63,000 gallons of penguin oil went through Stanley. It was reckoned that 9 good penguins (Rockhoppers) could boil down to a gallon of oil, (best done when they first came ashore to breed and were fat and oily). Gentoos were also taken from Speedwell Island. Their skins were also used to help fuel and fire the trypots for melting down to oil. Penguins ashore to breed  are very tame and would not move from their nests or flee to the safety of the sea under any circumstances. They were easily driven into little stone corrals and would have been easy prey, just a matter of picking them up after a whack with a stick. In 1866 a law prohibited the killings of penguins on East Falkland but it went on on West Falkland. Oil was still being exported in 1880 but many rookeries were decimated never to recover, leaving only the small corrals they were herded into and banks of burnt penguin bones by the trypots as evidence they were ever there.

James Lovegrove Waldron- Notebook and Diary 1866- 1867 leaves us an insight into the business of the penguin oil trade and state of Falkland penguin stocks in 1866:  Now the seals are almost extirminated, they kill and boil down the Penguins for the oil. It takes about 9 good ones to make a gallon of oil. At present they have nearly killed them off and will in another year or so as the only place where they are at all numerous is the "Jasons" where they literally cover the ground for miles on one or other island. They are so numerous at the Jasons that with the words of the man "Hansens" who rents one of them he will never be able to boil them down in his time as they increase there as fast as he can kill them. It is only at certain times of the year they can kill them, i.e. when they are just at breeding time. They collect at certain places in myriads to lay their eggs and hatch them and then off to sea again. To obtain the penguins they make a "corral"  of stones into which they drive them like sheep. When full, the men enter and knock them down but most of them are suffocated by getting on top of one another. After they skin them (which is no good as many thousand were once sent to England and brought less than the parties gave for them here) and boil them down. On one island where there are myriads, they can do nothing with them as having to drive them up a high hill they get exhausted and lie down so that they cannot get them to the corral. Those near Stanley are not allowed to be killed as their eggs in the season supply the town and shipping, their skins are very oily.

Between the 1864 to 1866 seasons around two million gentoo and rockopper penguins were killed and boiled down for oil on the Jason Islands alone.


Sources include: The Falkland Islands- Ian J Strange, James Lovegrove Waldron- Notebook and Diary 1866- 1867, The Falkland Islands- G Moir
Photographic credits: Biffo Tuson
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Sources include: The Falkland Islands- Ian J Strange, James Lovegrove Waldron- Notebook and Diary 1866- 1867



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