Mocha Island

Mocha Island (Spanish: Isla Mocha [ˈisla ˈmotʃa]) is a small Chilean island located west of the coast of Arauco Province in the Pacific Ocean. The island is approximately 48 km2 (19 sq mi) in area, with a small chain of mountains running roughly in north-south direction. In Mapuche mythology, the souls of dead people travel west to visit this island. The island today is home to the Mocha Island National Reserve, a nature reserve that covers approximately 45% of the island's surface. The island is noted as the location of numerous historic shipwrecks. The waters off the island are a popular place for recreational sea fishing.

Mocha Island
Native name:
Isla Mocha
Isla Mocha 1.jpg
Aerial view of Mocha Island
Mocha Island is located in Chile
Mocha Island
Mocha Island
LocationSouth-central Chile
Coordinates38°21′54″S 73°54′54″W / 38.36500°S 73.91500°W / -38.36500; -73.91500Coordinates: 38°21′54″S 73°54′54″W / 38.36500°S 73.91500°W / -38.36500; -73.91500
Area48 km2 (19 sq mi)
Highest elevation300 m (1000 ft)
RegionBío Bío
Ethnic groupsChileans, Mapuches

The Pacific degu (Octodon pacificus), also known as the Mocha Island degu, a species of rodent in the family Octodontidae, is endemic to Mocha Island.


Geologically, the island is made of sedimentary rock stratum of Ranquil Formation, a formation whose main outcrops lie in the continent.[1] The island was permanently uplifted as result of the 2010 Chile earthquake but this uplift was less than in the adjacent coast where Tirúa had the largest uplift of all the coast.[2] The existence of a splay fault called Tirúa-Mocha Fault may explain the different behaviour of Mocha Island relative to the mainland during this earthquake.[2]


Depiction of Isla Mocha during an incursion by a Dutch pirate fleet in 1616. From the book that narrates the adventures of Dutch pirate Joris van Spilbergen.

The island was historically inhabited by an indigenous coastal population of Mapuches known as the Lafkenches. The first European to document Mocha was Juan Bautista Pastene on September 10, 1544, who named it Isla de San Nicolas de Tolentino.

According to Juan Ignacio Molina, the Dutch captain Joris van Spilbergen observed the use of chilihueques (a South American camelid) by native Mapuches of Mocha Island as plough animals in 1614.[3]

Mocha Island was regularly visited by pirates and privateers from the Netherlands and England. Francis Drake and Olivier van Noort are known to have used the island as a supply base. When Drake was visiting it during his circumnavigation of the globe he was seriously hurt by Mapuches that inhabited the island. Richard Hawkins, Drake's cousin, also passed with his ship the Dainty. Eventually the Mapuche on the island were transported in 1685, from Mocha Island by Governor José de Garro to a reducción on the plain on the right bank of the Bio Bio River called the Valley of Mocha that later became the location of the modern city of Concepción, Chile.

The waters off the island are also noted as the home to a famous 19th century sperm whale, Mocha Dick as depicted by American explorer and author Jeremiah N. Reynolds who published an account, "Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal" in May, 1839 in The Knickerbocker magazine in New York.[4] Mocha Dick was, in part, the inspiration for the fictional whale Moby Dick in the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.[5]

Carahue coastal area with Mocha Island in the distance

Polynesian contactEdit

In December 2007 several human skulls with Polynesian features, such as a pentagonal shape when viewed from behind, were found lying on a shelf in a museum in Concepción. These skulls originated from Mocha Island.[6]


  1. ^ García A., Floreal (1968). Ceccioni, Giovanni (ed.). El Terciario de Chile Zona Central (in Spanish). Santiago de Chile: Ediorial Andrés Bello. pp. 25–57.
  2. ^ a b Quezada, Jorge; Jaque, Edilia; Catalán, Nicole; Belmonte, Arturo; Fernández, Alfonso; Isla, Federico (2020). "Unexpected coseismic surface uplift at Tirúa-Mocha Island area of south Chile before and during the Mw 8.8 Maule 2010 earthquake: a possible upper plate splay fault". Andean Geology. National Geology and Mining Service. 47 (2): 295. doi:10.5027/andgeoV47n2-3057.
  3. ^ The Geographical, Natural and Civil History of Chili, Pages 15 and 16, Volume II
  4. ^ J. N. Reynolds. "Mocha Dick: or the White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal," The Knickerbocker, or New-York Monthly Magazine. Vol. 13, No. 5, May 1839, pp. 377–392.
  5. ^ Delbanco, Andrew. Melville, His World and Work. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005: 167–168. ISBN 0-375-40314-0
  6. ^ Lawler, Andrew (June 11, 2010). "Beyond Kon-Tiki: Did Polynesians Sail to South America?". Science. 328 (5984): 1344–1347. Bibcode:2010Sci...328.1344L. doi:10.1126/science.328.5984.1344. PMID 20538927.


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