Sea Lion Island is one of the smallest in the Falklands archipelago (just 5 miles, 8km long and just over 1 mile, 1.5kms wide at its widest point), and the most southerly inhabited island, but it is still a prime destination with the sheer abundance of wildlife in such a small area making it a must on any Falklands itinerary. There are over 47 species of bird to be found, including three species of penguins. Rockhopper penguins congregate at Rockhopper Point which also supports an enormous colony of king cormorants. Gentoo penguins are most common in the sandy areas close to the Lodge and the Magellanic penguin burrows can be found in the tussock grass to the south.
However perhaps by far the biggest attraction on Sea Lion Island is the large number of Southern elephant seals that breed here, principally on the white sandy beach at the appropriately named Elephant Corner. This is the most important breeding location in the Falklands for Southern elephant seals and every Spring over 500 females arrive here to give birth. Also not to be missed are the Southern sea lions further around the coast on the narrow beaches at East Loafers. Pods of Killer whales are also often seen circling close offshore (usually a treat for the early risers) attracted by the prospect of penguins and seals. Dolphins, can also be spotted regularly around the island.
Sea Lion Island is dotted with small ponds and lakes which are ideal for observing waterfowl. The Falkland’s bird of prey the Striated Caracara, known locally as the Johnny rook, is commonly seen here. This cheeky and fearless bird will patiently wait to take off with something from your lunch pack or any other item of interest from your backpack. The island is free from natural predators such as cats, rats or mice meaning there is no threat to the many variety of ground nesting birds. Smaller birds nesting on the island include tussock birds, finches, thrushes, snipes and dark-faced ground tyrants.
Sea Lion Island is a haven for birdwatchers and photographers. Award-winning, world renowned photographers have adorned books and magazines with their prize-winning shots of the wildlife on Sea Lion Island, but even with the most basic equipment you can take away many shots to treasure.
On a more sombre note, Sea Lion Island is the site of the memorial to HMS Sheffield which was sunk by Argentine forces in 1982. Just above Rockhopper Point this monument has been erected in honour of the 20 Royal Navy crew killed when HMS Sheffield was hit by a missile 38 miles or 60km southeast of this point on 4 May 1982. The island is also home to the grave of one of the three civilians killed during the Conflict.
Setting off southwest from the Lodge there are routes through the tussock grass past a small pond which is a favourite spot for Magellanic penguins and a variety of ducks including speckled and silver teal and Chiloe wigeon. On re-entry into the tussock area walkers should be wary as a sudden encounter with an elephant seal or sea lion can be a frightening experience for both you and for the animal. The tussock grass along this cliff-top is often more than head high. You are not permitted to climb down the cliffs but you will have good views down to the rocky platforms where the sea lions gather in breeding season (Dec-Feb). Past the beach at East Loafers you will continue onto Rockhopper Point and the HMS Sheffield Monument. From here you can return to the Lodge through the centre of the island over easy terrain, distance approx. 3miles or 5km. Alternatively you can continue the walk towards West End and Beaver Pond and return to the Lodge via the boat landing at The Gulch.
Walking northeast from the Lodge you will encounter the sandy areas home to a large Gentoo penguin colony. Continue onto Elephant Corner where the elephant seals are all basking on the beach. This beach continues to Northeast Point and on your way keep a look out to sea for Peale’s dolphins or even Killer whales. Along this beach you can often see the colourful Magellanic oystercatcher with their distinctive high-pitched call.
Sea Lion Lodge
• Constructed in 1986 and upgraded in 2008.
• Purpose built lodge
• 11 rooms (2 doubles, 1 family, 5 twins, 1 single and 1 triple)
• All rooms are ensuite • Full board accommodation only (packed lunches provided on request)
• Large lounge and bar; conservatory
• No smoking policy except in designated outside area
• Introductory tour (approx. 2 hours duration)
On arrival you can be taken on an optional tour to familiarize yourself with the island. Once you are acquainted with all the locations of interest you are free to organise your day as you wish and to explore the island on foot. Sea Lion Island is gently rolling terrain and the proximity of much of the wildlife to the Lodge and the easy walking terrain makes it a great destination for families or for those less agile.
Main photo courtesy Mark Spicer