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Port Lockroy: History, Post Office, and Resident Penguins

by Oceanwide Expeditions Blog

Sometimes it’s so easy to focus on all the beautiful coastlines, fjords, and other natural wonders of Antarctica that we overlook the man-made attractions in between.
Antarctic Peninsula

Regions: Antarctica

Destinations: Antarctic Peninsula

Highlights: Port Lockroy

A primer on Port Lockroy

Sometimes it’s so easy to focus on all the beautiful coastlines, fjords, and other natural wonders of Antarctica that we overlook the man-made attractions in between.

One of the best examples of these is Port Lockroy.

Most commonly associated with the former British base built there in 1944, Port Lockroy is a scenic bay on Goudier Island, near the Antarctic Peninsula.

Of the many attractions available in Port Lockroy, the area’s whaling remains, post office museum, and local penguin colony are easily the most beloved among Antarctic travelers.

Port Lockroy whaling and war history

Port Lockroy is one of the most visited sites in Antarctica, though its historical roots are far from tourism.

French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot discovered Port Lockroy during his 1903―1905 expedition, naming the area after the politician who helped him finance those voyages.

At the height of the whaling industry, factory ships moored in Port Lockroy while whalers continued farther out to sea. The rusted mooring chains and long links of bleached whale bones near Port Lockroy are both evidence of this history.

Between 1911 and 1931, in fact, the harbor of Port Lockroy was used primarily for whaling.

Not long afterward, during World War II, British Forces built several secret military bases in Antarctica to keep out enemy forces. Port Lockroy’s Base A was one of these.

Base A became a scientific research station after the war, continuously manned until 1962.

Abandoned after that time, Port Lockroy fell into disrepair until 1996, after which it was restored to its original state.

The United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust paid for these renovations, working hard to make Port Lockroy look as it did in the 50s and 60s.

Port Lockroy is a historic site and monument under the Antarctic Treaty.

The post office museum of Port Lockroy

Port Lockroy is famed for having the southernmost post office in the world, which in 1996 was renovated to serve also as a museum.

Among the most popular destinations for Antarctic tourists, the Port Lockroy post office is a common stop along the expedition cruise circuit.  

It also contains a souvenir shop that funds maintenance for Port Lockroy and other Antarctic monuments.

The post office staff, consisting only of four people, process around 70,000 pieces of mail sent from Port Lockroy during the roughly five months of the Antarctic tourism season.

This mail is sent by the nearly 18,000 visitors to Port Lockroy each year.

Additionally, the trust that manages the post office gathers data for the British Antarctic Survey, helping determine visitor impact on the local penguin population.

Port Lockroy’s penguin inhabitants

Speaking of penguins, Port Lockroy is full of them.

In fact, half the island on which Port Lockroy is located is reserved for visiting tourists, while the other half is reserved entirely for the gentoos living there.

More than 1,500 gentoo penguins live around Port Lockroy, breeding and feeding and giving the local workers a very welcome distraction.

During the Antarctica summer season, Port Lockroy’s penguins are already raising their young, as the first chicks hatch by late December and grow to half their parents’ size within a few months.

Gentoo penguins are typically born in sets of two, after which parents take turns nesting and foraging for food out at sea.

Embark on your own Antarctica cruise, and if it includes a stop at Port Lockroy, you won’t be able to avoid seeing these spritely penguins (and many other seabirds) for yourself.

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