The shorelines of the the lower triangle of southern South America are extensive due to the broken up mainland, convoluted channels, and islands. The coast includes a variety of different landscapes from step fjords to remote beaches. There is a high diversity of birds and mammals, including endemics. The cooler waters of the Humboldt current that sweep in from Southern Ocean waters and along the west coast of South America push the temperate seashore plants and animals further north up the west coast than the equivalent latitudes on the east coast.
The stunningly steep Chilean fjords include many glaciers that are still carving their way through to the sea.
This ocean region extends out to the dramatic high cliffs of the Tristan da Cunha group in the southern mid-Atlantic.
Durvillaea antarctica, ‘New Zealand Bull Kelp’. Some Bull Kelps have a honeycomb structure in fronds that hold air and aid buoyancy; they swish about in the water along the intertidal zone like slippery snakes. The most widespread and most commonly seen Bull Kelp: as suggested by common name, found in New Zealand, but also in subantarctic and southern South America.
Stichaster striatus, ‘Common Light-striated Sea Star’. In 2006, research published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology revealed that when ‘alcoholic’ rats were fed an extract from this species of sea-star, they reduced their voluntary intake of alcohol! These experiments had been inspired by stories from the 17th and 18th century that Jesuit property-owners in South America fed "starfish soup" to their workers to increase sobriety.
Heliaster helianthus, ‘South American Multiradiate Sun Star’. Unusually for a sea star, has 28 - 39 arms. Found on the Pacific coast (western South American) in Chile, Peru, and Ecuador.
The temperate coasts of southern South America include an interesting variety of endemic species of ducks and geese.
‘Black-headed Swan’, Cygnus melancoryphus. The largest waterfowl in South America. This is the only Swan (Cygnus) species that breeds in southern South America, indeed in all of the Neotropics.
This is a small genus of five 'shelduck' geese that are endemic to southern South America.
Chloephaga poliocephala, 'Ashy-headed Goose'. Live and breed along southern South American coast in summer, move inland to Argentine pampas grasslands in winter.
Chloephaga hybrida, 'Kelp Goose'. Sexually dimporhic, male is dark, female is snow white. As the name suggests, it mostly feeds on various types of algae.
Chloephaga picta, 'Upland Goose'. Usually seen in family groups of pairs. Male and female sexually dimorphic: male has white head, female has brown. Live in open habitats, from high altitude grasslands to coast, in southern South America. (not to be confused with Ruddy-headed Goose on Falklands/Malvinas).
Haematopus ater, 'Blackish Oystercatcher'.
Sterna hirundinacea, 'South American Tern'. Bright red bill and black cap in breeding adults. Swallow'-like forked tail. Found around coast of southern South America, and reaching the tropics along both east and west coast.
Depending on your taxonomy, there are up to 20 species in this family. While many people think of penguins as being found exclusively around Antarctica, there are many in the temperate areas of the southern hemisphere, and southern South America is no exception. There are two species commonly found along the west coast of temperate South America, and of course there are always vagrants.
Spheniscus magellanicus, 'Magellanic Penguin'. Breeds around southern South America.
Spheniscus humboldti, 'Humboldt's Penguin' has one band on the chest.
Eudyptes moseleyi, 'Northern/Moseley's Rockhopper Penguin'. It is thought that 99% of all Northern Rockhopper Penguins breed only on Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island.
Thalassarche chlororhynchos, 'Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross'.
Phalacrocorax gaimardi, 'Red-legged Cormorant'. Lives along the west coast and southern part of east coast of South America, reflecting the cold waters of the Humboldt current.
Leucocarbo magellanicus, 'Rock/Magellanic Cormorant/Shag'. Common large black and white bird with striking red face patch. Common on temperate coasts of southern South America.
There are about 15 species in this genus. They are found in cooler habitats in the Andes or coastal southern South America. In these habitats they are usually found near water, fresh or salt, where they hunt for invertebrates. They are all mostly brown, with some species having contrasting white on face or cheeks.
Cinclodes patagonicus, 'Dark-bellied Cinclodes'. Chocolate brown, with some white streaking on upper breast. Found at high altitude open habitats in the north of it's range in central Chile, down to sea level in south Chile, where it is often found flitting around rocks along seashore.
Cinclodes oustaleti, ‘Grey-flanked Cinclodes’. Can be rufous on belly, with white streaking down breast. Found in shrublands in southern South America, including along coasts.
Lontra felina, 'Marine Otter'.
This genus contains only one species.
Otaria flavescens, 'South American Sea Lion'. This species is found along both west and east South American coasts (although due to the Humboldt current is found further north along the west coast than east). They are also found on the Falklands/Malvinas and out to the islands of the mid-Atlantic ridge.
South American Sea-lions have among the most obvious sexual dimorphism of the eared seas. The males can be twice as heavy as the females, and have a large 'mane' of hair, thus the name 'sea-lion'.
Arctocephalus australis, 'South American Fur Seal'. Breeds on the coast of southern South America and nearby islands.
Arctocephalus tropicalis, 'Subantarctic Fur Seal'. Breed on remote islands in the southern parts of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Their inappropriate scientific epithet comes from when the species was described from a dead specimen found washed up on a tropical Australian seashore.
National parks and other areas to explore the temperate seashores around southern South America include: Tic Toc Nature Reserve in the Chilean Fiords, Chile, as well as Tristan da Cunha.
The author 'enjoying' the Chilean Fjords with Noble Caledonia in 2012. Yes, that's a glacier behind me - it gets cold!
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