Penguins are amongst the most popular of birds today, yet they have been exploited by mankind in the Falkland Islands for at least two centuries. In 1932/33 A G Bennett estimated the breeding population of rockhopper penguins alone to be 3.5 million pairs, and the total to be close to 6 million, and although this is now thought to be a considerable overestimate (1.5 million for rockhoppers is nearer the mark) the birds were undoubtedly exceedingly numerous and penguins were mercilessly slaughtered.

An abandoned trypot at New Island. Trypots, cast iron cauldrons with three legs, were used for rendering penguins for oil.

King penguins were also killed for their fine feathers.



Collecting penguin eggs by the wheelbarrow load at the turn of the century.

Millions were killed for their oil late in the 19th century. Eight penguins were estimated to make one gallon (4.5 litres) of oil. In 1867 it was reported that four vessels engaged in the ‘penguin and seal fishery’ in the Falklands made 50,700 gallons of penguin oil which implys the destruction of half a million birds in one season.

Penguin eggs have been taken for food since men reached the Falklands. In 1833 Edmund Fanning took on board his ship 'a goodly number of geese and 56 barrels of his favourite penguin eggs'. In 1871 a colony of rockhoppers at Sparrow Cove near Stanley yielded 25,000 eggs, but none breed there today.

When cooked, the white of a penguin egg looks like a semi transparent jelly and the yolk is bright orange. They have a distinctive fishy taste. Eggs were preserved in large quantities and made a welcome change to the Falkland Islanders' routine diet of mutton (referred to as '365' as it was commonly eaten every day of the year).

Since 1999, it has been illegal to collect the eggs of rockhopper penguins. However, the traditional and limited harvesting of gentoo penguin eggs continues under a controlled licence system operated by the Falkland Islands Government.

 Falkland Penguins Today

All penguins are protected by law under the Conservation of Wildlife and Nature Ordinance 1999 (95kb PDF).

It is now illegal to export penguins or their eggs out of the islands. Many penguins in zoos today are descendants of birds collected from the Falkland Islands such as at Edinburgh Zoo. There are strict Customs controls on any biological export from the Falkland Islands. A moratorium since 2001 has prevented the export of penguins or "live" penguin eggs for collections or breeding programmes.