Punta Tombo, 66 miles (107 km) down the coast from Trelew, is the world’s largest nesting colony for Magellanic penguins—in fact, largest penguin colony of any kind outside Antarctica— 500,000, or in a good year a million pairs of them. They start porpoising ashore on this promontory in September and soon are marching to burrows in long columns, bowing, getting acquainted with new mates or re-acquainted with long-time ones, contesting for territories on the moonscape-like colony, fearless with visitors, a loud, hoarsely braying crowd audibly living up to their other name—jackass penguin. (They received their better-known name from their first sighting by one of Portuguese explorer Magellan’s sailors in 1520.)
Egg-laying begins after usually-non-lethal territorial squabbling and ceremonious courtship in October, often at a pair’s previous burrow. Young hatch in November and both parents forage at sea, returning with up to two pounds (l kg) of food in their stomachs for chicks. With such nurturing chicks thrive and start fledging in January (but may stay until March) and head out to sea on their own, not to return until they themselves nest a year later.
In 1981 a Japanese company asked Argentina for permission to harvest 40,000 penguins a year, increasing to 400,000 a year, for food, oil, and glove leather. Public outcry led to a law banning their killing and establishment of this 500-acre (200-ha) reserve by the provincial government working with the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Protected here as well are guanacos, rheas, sea lions, and a variety of seabirds including king and rock cormorants, giant petrels, black oystercatchers, and striking scarlet-legged-and-billed dolphin gulls. Rare pampas cats occasionally nap in unused penguin burrows.
Get to the reserve by tour bus from Trelew or hire a guide, taxi, or rent a car (which permits you to tarry as long as you wish). Another reserve 165 miles (275 km) south of Trelew, Cabo Dos Bahias, also has a sizable penguin colony, is quieter and more remote, with lodging and campgrounds.