CAPE SHIRREFF, Antarctica – Cape Shirreff, a small and rocky peninsula on Livingston Island in Antarctica, is an oasis for Antarctic fauna featuring different types of birds, penguins and seals.
For decades, Chilean and US scientists have spent long periods at the remote portion of Antarctica, located at 62 degrees south latitude, with the aim of studying the species there and trying to decipher the effects of climate change.
“Cape Shirreff is like an oasis where many species coexist. This offers us the opportunity not only to study each of the animals, but also the interaction among them,” marine biologist Renato Borras told EFE.
This frozen peninsula approximately three kilometers (1.8 miles) long is home to communities of penguins, along with gigantic petrels, seagulls and skuas.
There are also four or five different types of seals lying on the inhospitable, stony, ash-colored beaches that surround the peninsula.
However, the main animal found at the site is the Antarctic fur seal, a species that was hunted practically to extinction in the 19th century for its valuable pelt.
Since the 1980s, however, hunting the fur seal has been prohibited and the population has rapidly made a comeback.
Currently, Cape Shirreff is the site of the largest fur seal colony in the South Shetland Islands with thousands of members of the species.
The great biodiversity of this part of the world was the reason why the signers of the Antarctic Treaty declared it to be a specially protected zone with restrictions on tourism.
“It’s fascinating that the enormous complexity of the Antarctic ecosystem can be studied in such a small area,” Borras said.
Chile’s Guillermo Mann Base and the US Shirreff Base are located on the peninsula, and a dozen scientists do research at each one for three or four months out of the year.
In addition to the large amount of krill in the surrounding waters, “the geography of the cape makes it one of the favorite places for reproduction and raising the mammals,” said the doctoral student, who carries out his research on fur seal behavior during the Antarctic summer.
“This place is like a window on the future. Understanding what happens here can help us predict what will occur tomorrow in other parts of the planet,” he said.