What have we done…?

This time last year the Falkland Islands (F.I.) were just somewhere jotted down on our travel wish-list and a place imprinted on our memory because of the dramatic events back in 1982. We wanted to visit The Falklands for the wildlife and wild scenery, but it seemed expensive and challenging to get to, so it is likely it would have remained on the wish-list for many a year! Then life, as it tends to do, threw up an opportunity that we could not ignore. After having spent 30 years in the Metropolitan Police, an offer arose to go and work in the Royal Falkland Islands Police, based in the capital, Stanley. I won’t bore you with how it all came about, but Richard Sabin, at the Natural History Museum, has an awful lot to answer for! We had the pleasure of meeting him back in March 2019, and his enthusiasm and knowledge about the F.I. piqued our interest again, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Dramatic scenery of East Falkland

So here we are nearly 8000 miles from home, surrounded by penguins, sea lions, seals, dolphins, whales and all manner of sea birds including albatross.

A Gentoo penguin. One of the five species of penguin that make the Falklands their home. More of them later…

On our first day out to Gypsy Cove, which is one of the nearest beach areas to Stanley, we were delighted to spot both Peale’s and Commerson’s dolphins. The dorsal fin of the Peale’s dolphin gets the heart racing as it looks almost shark-like. It is quite tall, and described in books as falcate, which means hooked, almost sickle like. It is very different from the gentler, rounded dorsal fin of the Commerson’s.

As an enthusiastic, but amateur naturalist I do like it when I read the word “unmistakeable” in the guide book when describing an animal. I like to know, without doubt, what I have seen! The Commerson’s dolphin is truly unmistakeable. It is small, stocky, and has distinctive black and white markings. It has a black head, predominantly white body, black dorsal fin and flippers and black tail flukes. In contrast the Peale’s dolphins are less distinct. They are more black and grey with a whitish/grey patch on the belly/chest region and a white blaze (think go-faster stripe!) on the tailstock.

Peale’s Dolphin – note the distinct, tall, hooked dorsal fin
Commerson’s dolphin – note the lower, more rounded, gentler dorsal fin.

We spent the afternoon watching both of these dolphin species meandering in and out of the kelp beds. The beds are quite close in to the shore enabling excellent viewing.

Peale’s dolphins at the edge of the kelp bed, Gypsy Cove.
An “unmistakeable” Commerson’s dolphin chasing alongside the Concordia Ferry between East and West Falkland.

Since those initial sightings we have been fortunate to see both types of dolphin regularly in and around the harbour in Stanley, another area called the Canache, around Gypsy Cove and Cape Pembroke, and dramatically around the wreck of the Lady Liz, a very picturesque shipwreck that is a landmark here in Stanley.

The wreck of the Lady Liz in Stanley harbour, at dusk.

I was even lucky enough to view some Commerson’s from the window of the Police Station!

On one memorable afternoon, we were sat in glorious sunshine on the end of the jetty when a trio of Commerson’s swam under the water right in front of us, like three synchronised torpedoes, their white bodies reflecting dramatically from under the water. There were also three sea lions lounging at the end of the jetty. They are there so often it is rumoured that they are employed by the tourist board!

A white Commerson’s torpedo.

So the good news is that now we know what to look for on the dolphin front, we can start seeing what else is out there!

My quest to rationalize my career choices

Being well informed is really hard, it is both a blessing and a curse. The more you learn, the more guilty you begin to feel to even walk on the earth but the more you learn, the more you understand that the actions you take in your day to day life can make a real difference. Growing up, I wanted to make a difference. Most people assume that the quest to make a difference is often driven by selfishness – I somewhat agree with this statement.

As a child, I was overwhelmed with empathy for all other living things, I wanted to give my leftover pizza hut buffet to the homeless, I wanted to take lost distressed baby rabbits whose Mum had been got in a ‘hit-and-run’ accident to the nearby wildlife rescue unit and I felt guilty for stepping on snails during a nighttime stroll with our family dog. These actions and feelings were not taught to me – they came innately and often left me wondering “why did I deserve to be so lucky whilst others were not so fortunate?”. Was I being selfish, I am still unsure.

As an adult I now debate with myself about whether the path I have chosen is making enough of a difference – do I have the potential to do more? Be more? Help others more?

This leads me on to the statement “the quest to make a difference is often driven by selfishness”. I love the outdoors, I love forests, mountains, and coral reefs, I love dogs, I love the beach, I love my friends and I especially love sitting on a boat and hoping to see a whale…if I get seabirds, porpoises or seals, I will still be in my element but if a whale appears I will be ecstatic. I could sit and watch them in the open ocean for hours and hours without ever becoming an inch bored. I love how evolution and natural selection has created all of these fantastic creatures, communities, and ecosystems that all interact and even depend on one another to survive. Earth is utterly fantastic.

Because of my love for the natural world and my favourites within it, I selfishly have sort out a career studying whales and the marine ecosystem. I do this because I enjoy it and I want to protect it and even if my best efforts to do what I can to protect and sustain the marine environment fall short, I will at least contribute to our knowledge of this system and educate the younger generations about these awesome creatures  – they are just super cool.

I am sure there will still be days that I ponder whether I have made the right career choice. Such questions as “if I became a climate scientist or an environmental lawyer will I have made more of an impact? will I have contributed to the prevention of the climate crisis, poverty or dramatic reductions in biodiversity?” and perhaps the answer to this question is yes, but I have set myself a different quest, a selfish one… to become an ecological statistician that studies whales, because they are super cool and others need to bathe in their awesomeness.