Running Antarctica's 'Penguin Post Office': Coolest Job Ever?

By: Jesslyn Shields  | 
penguin po
Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) wait for their mail outside the Port Lockroy post office in Antarctica. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

For a lot of people, a dream job involves looking forward to a daily variety of work tasks, a tight knit group of colleagues and the knowledge that however difficult things get, there's an end to how long you'll be doing them. And for Clare Ballantyne, Mairi Hilton, Natalie Corbett and Lucy Bruzzone, running the "penguin post office" in Antarctica fits that bill completely.


History of the Port Lockroy Post Office

It's not that running the Port Lockroy post office on the postage-stamp-sized Godier Island (just kidding — it's about the size of a football field) is a total bed of roses, even though the U.K. Antarctic Heritage Trust that manages the Antarctic base got over 6,000 applications to fill the four positions this year. For starters, the chosen candidates, all from the U.K., will have to deal with the lack of running water and flushing toilets, showering on passing ships, no WiFi, constant daylight, subzero temperatures and a dizzying array of work tasks, including monitoring Godier Island's 1,500 odiferous gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua). However, the job's term limits make it doable for Ballantyne, Hilton, Corbett and Bruzzone — they can deal with almost any inconvenience for five months, right?

Between November and March in the austral summer of 2022-2023, the four women will be living the Antarctic dream at one of the most popular tourist attractions on the coldest continent. Originally built by the British in 1944 as part of Operation Tabarin, a secret mission to strengthen Britain's hold on the Falkland Islands during World War II, the base was initially christened Station A, but was abandoned in 1962. However, the Port Lockroy base was restored in 1996 and became the relatively bustling post office and general store it is today.


What Happens at the Penguin Post Office?

Annual recruitment for the outpost's four positions has been going on since 2006, but in 2022 there was a record number of applicants — more than double the number received in previous years. The base, which generally receives around 18,000 visitors each season, was shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and perhaps interest in the positions was boosted due to the fact that people had to wait a couple of seasons to apply.

The four positions on Godier Island are postmaster, wildlife monitor, gift shop manager and base leader (who coordinates incoming ships and manages the team). Applicants were narrowed down from a few thousand to 12, at which point the applicants were brought together in person for a day of interviews, tests, presentations and group activities — after all, if you're asking four people to live together using the bathroom in a bucket for five months, you want to make sure they're likely to get along before you ship them off.


Who Are the 4 Women of the Penguin Post Office?

The applicants who made the cut are all extremely well qualified — Corbett has experience in retail, Ballantyne has a master's degree in Earth science from Oxford University, Hilton has a Ph.D. in conservation biology and Bruzzone, the base leader, has spent time in the Arctic and as a program director for the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Not only that, but the applicants were also deemed mentally resilient enough to endure the rigors of one of the most isolated and least temperate climates in the world. The U.K. Antarctic Heritage Trust didn't set out to hire an all-woman team this year, but the four finalists happened to be the ones who had what it takes.

The team will meet up at Port Lockroy in November 2022 and begin counting nests and sorting mail right away. In addition to the toils of their labor, the women will get to spend time watching whales and non-penguin seabirds, talking to visitors from every continent, taking in glaciers and the breathtaking Fief Mountains and really getting to know their co-workers. Good luck, ladies!