While idly flicking through a brochure for a cruise holiday company I noticed that the illustrations accompanying the blurb for two of its cruises included misleading images of birds. Both these cruises follow the southern coasts of South America, and both illustrations show species that would never be seen during these voyages.
The first cruise, labelled “Sensational South America: Santiago to Rio”, is a voyage south from Valparaiso (Chile), round Cape Horn and back north to Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), with stop-overs in various mainland ports and a detour to the Falkland Islands.
The illustration for this cruise shows three different birds — flamingoes, penguins and a toucan.
Now the flying flamingoes could well be Chilean Flamingo, a species found throughout temperate South American. So no problem there.
And the penguins are clearly King Penguin, which cruise-goers may certainly see around Tierra del Fuego or possibly in the Falkland Islands — although the illustration stupidly manages to depict them on a white sandy beach in front of Rio de Janeiro’s outlandish statue of Christ the Redeemer, even though this species has never been seen so far north.
But the most absurdly misplaced bird in the illustration is the toucan. There are more than 40 species of toucan, but not one of them can be found so far south.
And the species depicted is clearly a Keel-billed Toucan, which is a bird of Central America. Its range just extends into northern Colombia and north-western Venezuela, but its southern limit is still well within the Northern Hemisphere and some 2,800 miles (4,500km) short of Santiago or Rio.
The Keel-billed Toucan may be badly out of place, but even more ludicrous is the choice of bird to illustrate the second cruise. Listed as “Buenos Aires Stay and South America Explorer”, this option is similar to the first voyage but travels in the opposite direction. And its brochure image clearly — and preposterously — shows two Atlantic Puffin.
Don’t be fooled by the word “Atlantic”. The Atlantic Ocean may well extend down the east coast of South America, but the Atlantic Puffin is restricted to the colder northern waters of the North Atlantic, where it breeds on the coasts of north-west Europe, the Arctic fringes and eastern Canada. In winter an intrepid Puffin may venture as far south as the North Carolina coast — but that is still well inside the Northern Hemisphere and no less than 5,000 miles (8,000km) north of the cruise’s starting point in Argentina.
To make matters worse, when I investigated the cruise company’s website I found a page about South American cruises on which was an image of a Blue-and-yellow Macaw. Now, unlike the toucan and the puffin, this macaw is a genuine South American bird. It can even be found south of the Equator. But, once again, it is a species that cruise-goers have virtually no chance of seeing during their trips around the continent’s southern fringes.
The Blue-and-yellow Macaw occurs only across the northern regions of South America and is rarely found anywhere near the ocean other than on the shores of the Caribbean Sea. It may also be seen on the Atlantic coast, but only as far south as Brazil’s most northerly outposts — some 1,500 miles (2,400km) short of any cosy port visited on the cruise company’s itineraries.
Could cruise passengers spot any other macaw species instead? Almost certainly not. South America hosts a further 18 species of macaw, but several of these are just clinging on to existence, if not already extinct. As with the 40 species of toucan, their restricted range means that, barring a miracle, cruise passengers will not see any of them.
My initial intention was to spare the cruise company any embarrassment by not identifying it. But I have changed my mind mainly because of the company’s name — Imagine Cruising. Imagine! It certainly needs plenty of imagination to promote South American cruises with images of birds that could not possibly be seen on any of the hyped itineraries.