Applications open for Antarctica's penguin post office

By John Mercury March 19, 2024

Applications are open to work in Antarctica’s famous “penguin post office”.

Successful applicants will be “self-motivated”, “empathetic” and fine with showering once every two weeks.

The shop in Port Lockroy is the southernmost post office in the world and frequently smells like penguin poo.

Every year, the Antarctic Heritage Trust is flooded with applications for the jobs. This year, there are three positions on offer and they are only open to UK residents.

As well as processing up to 80,000 letters and postcards a year, staff must run the shop and welcome roughly 18,000 cruise passengers who stop by.

One applicant, charity manager Katie Shaw in Manchester, wants to go so much, she has tattooed a geographically accurate map of the Antarctic on one leg and a portrait of explorer Ernest Shackleton on the other.

Charity manager Katie Shaw has tattooed Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton on her thigh. Pic: Katie Shaw
Image:
Charity manager Katie Shaw has tattooed Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton on her thigh. Pic: Katie Shaw

“I grew up wanting to be a marine biologist working in Antarctica,” said Ms Shaw.

“Academically, that didn’t work out but I’ve always found the wildlife, landscape and the exploration there fascinating.

Charity manager Katie Shaw wants to go to the region so much she's tattooed a geographically accurate map of Antarctica on her leg. Pic: Johnny Rad/Instagram
Image:
Katie Shaw has tattooed a geographically accurate map of Antarctica on her leg. Pic: Johnny Rad/Instagram

“The continent is so important to the environment and feels like a place we haven’t totally f****** up yet.

“Each year it feels less and less likely we’ll be able to enjoy and appreciate it.”

Katie Shaw is one of the applicants for this year's 'penguin post office' position. Pic: Katie Shaw
Image:
Katie Shaw is one of the applicants for this year’s ‘penguin post office’ position. Pic: Katie Shaw

Successful applicants need to have a range of skills. Employees have to sort post, sell stamps, look after the buildings and run the gift shop. They will have to put up with basic living conditions and be happy with their own company.

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The application form warns people about hygiene:

“We have no running water on the island, so washing facilities are very basic. Water is collected in jerry cans from visiting ships.

“There are no shower facilities at Port Lockroy, so staff are expected to be comfortable living with these limited washing facilities, yet still keeping hygiene levels high.

“Visiting ships will offer showers approximately once per week, but when weather conditions are poor you could go up to two weeks without visitors or a shower.”

Staff also need to count the roughly 1,500 gentoo penguins that live in a colony at Port Lockroy.

Holidays to the Antarctic are expensive. Ms Shaw estimates it would cost more than her annual mortgage payment to go on a two-week cruise to the region.

There are also concerns Antarctica’s growing tourism industry is damaging the delicate ecosystem.

Antarctic tourists are even causing penguin species to change their reproductive and social behaviours, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

That makes the post office position even more attractive for applicants.

“There’s only three ways you can really visit Antarctica; working on a research base, elite tourism or applying for the post office,” said Ms Shaw.

Applications close on 18 March for the season starting from November and ending in March 2025.

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