Allan White is a Falkland Islands native, naturalist, Zodiac driver, and has led more than 125 shipboard expeditions around the world (40 of those to Antarctica). He is a Zegrahm Expedition leader on programs to Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falklands--the place he is proud to call home.
The Falklands are such a remote and mysterious place to most people--what is it like living there?
This windswept group of islands surrounded by a cold, often hostile ocean is not everybody's cup of tea, especially since only one or two flights per week connect us with the outside world. However, for Falkland Islanders, it is this splendid isolation with its peace and tranquility, along with a pollution-free, wildlife-rich environment, that makes it a wonderful, stress-free place to live.
What are you most proud of as an island citizen... and what would you give travelers as the best reason for visiting the Falklands?
Without question, the main attraction of the Falklands Islands is the incredible wildlife. Most visitors are surprised by the sheer volume of wildlife and how approachable much of it is. I am incredibly proud of the way in which we have struck a balance with nature, and visitors can still enjoy the wildlife without the restraints of fences, wardens, boardwalks, and viewing platforms found in other parts of the world.
Tell us a bit about the types and profusion of wildlife on the islands.
The Falklands boast about 65 breeding species of birds, most evidently the seabirds. For example, we have up to 80% of the world's population of black-browed albatrosses, and the world's largest concentration of southern giant petrels. As for penguins, Magellanics, rockhoppers, and gentoos all occur in unbeatable numbers, with a handful of kings and macaronis keeping them company. The Falklands are also a stronghold for the striated caracara, one of the rarest birds of prey in the world. Southern elephant seals and South American sea lions, once hunted to near extinction, are returning to our shores and can again be found breeding on some islands in healthy numbers.
Are there traditions unique to the Falklands? What makes daily life there unique from other, less remote, places?
The Falklands were only colonized by Great Britain in 1840, so the human history is not that long. From day one, sheep farming was the main activity and the mainstay of the island's economy right up to the mid 1980s with Falkland wool fetching good prices on world markets. Despite major economic challenges, a handful of islanders continue with this way of life, even though there is little financial reward. These people still live off the land, much as the settlers did back in 1840, growing their own vegetables, slaughtering cattle and sheep for meat, milking cows, collecting fresh water from a hillside spring, and gathering eggs from wild birds in spring. It is a tough way of life that requires hard work and ingenuity.
What is your most favorite place in the islands?
My absolute favorite place is Steeple Jason Island--it's as remote as you can get in the Falklands. The island offers dramatic scenery and a profusion of wildlife that is simply breathtaking, including the largest albatross colony on the planet. Since there is no farming or permanent human habitation here, the predator-free environment is ruled by wildlife that has no fear of anything. Since there is no boat or air service to the island, Steeple Jason is an incredibly tough place to visit. A small number of privileged people have ever set foot on it, the majority being fortunate overseas visitors traveling with Zegrahm Expeditions.
Has the war with Argentina affected daily life in the islands?
There is no escaping the fact that the war in 1982 was a major turning point for the Falklands, and life here is very different as a result. But that's not a bad thing. Before the war, Britain showed little interest in the islands and we were sliding slowly towards Argentine rule. The economy was slow and revolved mainly around sheep farming and wool exports. Many people moved away in search of a better lifestyle. It's tragic that it took ten weeks of war and almost a thousand lives, but the events of 1982 turned the islands around and put us on the world map. These days we have a thriving community with all the services and amenities enjoyed elsewhere, albeit on a smaller scale. And much more money is available these days, thanks to a well run fishery that attracts fleets from far and wide.
Do you have a favorite memory from an expedition you led in the islands?
If I really had to single out something, it would be a true David and Goliath battle that I witnessed with some Zegrahm travelers on Sea Lion Island several years ago. We were observing some elephant seals when a tiny blackish cinclodes flew in and landed on the back of a huge, wounded male. The bird then proceeded to feed from its bleeding wounds, some of which were on the end of its damaged proboscis. All this thoroughly irritated the seal which had recently battled with another male. It growled and lurched and rolled every which way it could, trying to deter the tiny tormentor, but to no avail. For almost half an hour, I sat with my speechless group admiring the agility and courage of this fearless little bird as it dodged and out-witted the angry beast. When it was done with the seal, it hopped over towards us and before flying off, walked amongst us as though we weren't even there.