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A Report from

Western Antarctica,

Carlos Pedrós-Alió


More people are visiting Antarctica every year. It was just a few years ago that the total number of tourists was higher than the number of scientists visiting the Southern Continent for the first time. Therefore, I thought the present report might be useful for people thinking about the possibility of such a trip or actually planning to do it. I would certainly recommend it even if the price were very high.

I have participated in five oceanographic cruises in Antarctica as a marine microbiologist. In such cruises, one spends most of the time either working or sleeping and, thus, extensive and systematic bird observations are not possible. However, I have tried to dedicate at least between 30 min and an hour every day to birdwatching. Despite a total of about 150 days at sea, this may still be considered insignificant compared to the size of the area.

Antarctica is the place where concepts such as "awe" and "pristine" stop being corny clichés and recover their full original meaning. The feeling is akin to that produced by a Japanese interior: austere, subtle and elegant. With only a few elements, water, ice and some rocks, an apparently endless series of landscapes unfolds before one's eyes with the relaxed pace provided by navigation. The hypnotic feeling of waves is enriched by the solitude. One is aware that nobody else is out there, or in the next bay, or in the bay next to the next bay…

And, on top of this, the birdwatching is fantastic. The total number of species is not high, as befits such an extreme environment. However, birds (and mammals) can be seen so close and in such numbers that the show is spectacular. Birdwatching from ships combines two aspects. On the one hand there is the persistent company of those birds that follow the ship: an assortment of albatrosses, petrels, and storm-petrels tracing eight-shaped figures astern. The biggest albatrosses navigate at an apparently slow speed and describe very wide curves, the smallest storm-petrels move in a flurry, in very small circles and apparently walking over the water every now and then. One can enjoy the show and take great pictures. And, on the other hand, there is the sporadic appearance of the birds that do not follow the ship and just happen to fly by: prions, rarer albatrosses or petrels. These provide the excitement of finding new species and trying to identify them under difficult conditions. All Antarctic trips include shore visits. And here one can closely approach the seals, the fur seals and specially the delightful penguins.

All my cruises have taken place between Longitudes 20˚ East (Cape Agulhas in South Africa) and 72˚ West (Punta Arenas in Chile). This is often refered to as Western Antarctica. One has to dress warmly, but there is no need to overdo it. It is summer when most people visit Antarctica and I have been much colder in the Minnesota winter or in the puna in the Andes. Besides, one can always retire to the ship's interior. Still, feet, hands and head need a good protection against the cold and the wind, because you want to spend as much time as possible on deck. This is my strongest recommendation: Do not fall into the routine of watching videos or having parties inside the ship, GO OUTSIDE. Something will happen that will make a unique experience of the trip. I have seen an iceberg collapsing, the green ray, humpback whales waving their tails, the Southern Lights, icebergs of unthinkable shapes, the eye of a whale looking at me, the most fantastic colours and shapes in the sky. No video or party can compare to these.

The Antarctic continent is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. The northern limit of the latter is the Polar Front, a hydrographic and biogeographical boundary between subtropical, relatively warm waters (around 6 degrees Celsius) to the north and cold (between 0 and -1.8 °C) Antarctic waters to the south. This boundary is within the circumpolar current: a huge system of currents perpetually flowing eastwards around the globe and effectively isolating surface waters of the Southern Ocean from those of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The area commonly visited is called the "banana belt", because it is a very wet and rainy area. It is almost permanently cloudy and frequently it rains or snows. You will see the sun only four of five days out of every 30. So high sensitivity film (200 ASA) is a good idea, while sunglasses may or may not be useful. Do not forget extra batteries for your camera and double the number of film rolls that you think you need.

For the present report I have tried to divide this huge area into "sites" just as one would do in any trip report on land. From north to south, these sites are Southern pelagic, Oceanic Islands, Southern Ocean, Icepack, and Antarctic Coasts.


1. Southern pelagic

I include here the area that would be normally seen if one were to do a typical pelagic birdwatching trip from Ushuaia or from Cape Town. In our cruises this includes one or two days at the beginning and one or two days at the end of each cruise. I have done one of this off Cape Town and eight off Ushuaia.

1a) South America

After leaving the Ushuaia Bay, one encounters some islands in the Beagle Channel. One of them has the landmark Les Eclaireurs lighthouse. Other islands are called "Isla de los Pájaros" and "Isla de los Lobos". These are worth approaching because they have colonies of cormorants and fur seals. In particular Imperial (albiventer) and King (atriceps) Cormorants can be seen next to each other. Likewise, South American Sea Lions are together with South American Fur Seals. This is great to train the eye. The islands also have pairs of Rock Shags and Kelp Geese. American Sheathbills are always around. If lucky, one may see individuals of Gentoo or Macaroni Penguins, although I have never seen them here.

The Beagle Channel is one of my favorite places. Compared to the wide and open Straits of Magellan, the Beagle is smaller. The snow covered mountains are close to the water and the Channel is narrow enough to give a feeling of coziness. There is always considerable bird activity: Black-browed Albatrosses flying or standing on the water, Southern Giant Petrels, South American Terns darting to fish, Chilean or Antarctic Skuas pursuing them, and Kelp Gulls looking for an opportunity. Most of the birds flying low and fast over the water will be cormorants. But look for the smaller ones: they may be Magellan Diving Petrels.

As the mouth to the Atlantic approaches, hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters appear. Occasionally I have seen a Greater Shearwater and even Wandering Albatrosses. Soon afterwards, one enters the Drake Passage and most people "pass out" and sway into their cabins absolutely seasick. I will discuss this area in the Southern Ocean site.

1b) South Africa

The pelagic trips from Cape Town are famous among birdwatchers. My trip from Cape Town was not exactly a pelagic trip. Because an oceanographic ship takes ten days to cross from South Africa to Antarctica, there is no time to follow fishing boats and the ship just steams at 12 knots directly south. Thus, you are likely to see many more birds than I did during the first two days of my trip. However, from the trip reports I have read, it does not look like you will see many more species.

White-breasted and Cape Cormorants, Jackass Penguins, Hartlaub's and Kelp Gulls were abundant near shore. I saw one Greater Crested Tern. As the shapes of Table Mountain and Lion's Head were disappearing in the horizon, I saw 6 White-chinned Petrels, 3 juveniles of White-capped Albatross and 3 Cape Gannets. The following day added Black-browed Albatross, a juvenile of Yellow-nosed Albatross and 5 more White-chinned Petrels to the list before I had to retire to my cabin for 24 hours… When I recovered we were already in the open ocean and this will be dealt with in site 3.

2. Oceanic Islands

There are very few islands spread over a vast oceanic area. Pelagic birds need these islands as platforms for breeding and, thus, these islands are usually packed with colonies. The same is true for marine mammals. Some birds, such as the Albatrosses, travel thousands of kilometers to feed but always return to the same island to breed. Other birds only travel within short distances from their islands. These tend to form endemic populations and eventually different species. An example of a situation intermediate between different species and different populations would be that of cormorants (see section on taxonomy).

There is a huge difference between sub Antarctic (north of the Polar Front) and Antarctic (south of the Polar Front) islands. The Falkland's-Malvinas on the South American continental shelf and Tristan, Inaccessible, Gough, Marion and Prince Edward Islands south of Cape Town, belong to the former category. They tend to be green, at least in summer. They frequently have endemic land birds and enormous colonies of seabirds and mammals. Unfortunately, I have not had a chance to visit any of these islands.

On the other hand, south of the Polar Front, islands tend to be white due to the glaciers covering most of their surface. Colonies of birds are scarce and only of the species better adapted to the cold. Bouvetøya is the prime example of this type of island. The South Sandwich and South Orkney Islands would be other examples. Although the South Shetlands are also south of the Polar Front, they are so close to the Antarctic Peninsula that they can be treated together with the continental coasts.

Bouvetøya is the most isolated island on the planet. The closest land is over 1000 nautical miles away. It is surprising to find such an Antarctic looking island so close to the Polar Front (only at 54˚ south). We anchored in sight of it on 25 March 2000, to test some equipment before reaching our working area south of the Polar Circle. The weather was a mixture of sun and clouds with strong winds. We could see the tiny dots of a penguin colony, which we knew was of Macaroni penguins, although we could not see a single one close by. There were hundreds of Kerguelen Petrels. The other sea birds were a mixture of northern (Northern Giant Petrel, Wandering and Grey-headed Albatrosses) and southern birds (Fulmar, Light-mantled Albatross, Antarctic Prion) plus the "Gang of four" (Black-browed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, Wilson's Storm-Petrel and Cape Petrel, see below).

3. Southern Ocean

The Southern Ocean covers about 10% of the Earth's surface. Its southern limit is the ice-edge and its northern limit is the already mentioned Polar Front. I will also consider here the sub Antarctic waters north of the Polar Front, but south of the area that could be reached in a normal pelagic trip. This vast area is visited in summer, when the ice-edge is furthest south. Very few ships venture south during the winter.

Birds and mammals found here are truly pelagic and travel long distances searching for local accumulations of food. The sea is not as homogeneous as it looks from the surface and animals are able to track areas where plankton is more abundant. For example, some birds are able to smell DMS, a volatile compound produced by planktonic microorganisms. Other birds "smell" ships and follow them waiting patiently for fish discards or food remains thrown overboard. Neither one of these two things is supposed to happen south of the 60˚ parallel, but birds know better… I will describe three longitudinal transects: one across the Drake Passage, one at the longitude of the South Orkney Islands and one south of Cape Town. The purpose is to provide an estimate of the relative abundance of the birds at different latitudes and longitudes.

3a) Drake Passage

I have crossed this dreaded part of the Southern Ocean 10 times. All crossings took place between December and February (Austral summer). Since most Antarctic tourism leaves from South America and goes to the Antarctic Peninsula area it is very likely that you will go through it, at least twice. The problem is that Antarctica is surrounded by a system of low pressure cells that move eastwards. Thus, every three or four days one is under a storm. The main swell is from the west and, therefore, the ship tends to roll mercilessly throughout the transect, reaching angles worth of the movie "A Perfect Storm". One has to be patient and be aware that for most people the trip southwards is miserable but during the trip northwards they will actually enjoy riding the storm! I have had some very pleasant crossings as well.

Birds seem to be more abundant towards the south along this transect. Between three and ten Southern Giant Petrels will be following your ship throughout the trip. More juveniles seem to be present close to the coasts of South America and more adults in the open sea. The next most frequently seen bird is the Cape Petrel. I have always found it very scarce in the northern part of this transect and always present in large groups towards the south. Wilson's Storm-Petrel is another very abundant bird, especially away from shores. Sometimes, there will be dozens walking over the water and at other times you will not see any of them. The other bird that can be seen almost daily is the Black-browed Albatross. Again, the number you will see is very variable. Sometimes one or two flying by, often half a dozen following the ship and, occasionally hundreds seating on the water. These birds make what I call the "gang of four."

There are additional birds that can be added to the "gang of four" in the more open sea areas. The most spectacular is the Wandering Albatross. You can count on seeing it at least once in every trip. One good thing about the bad weather is that these birds like it. So, the windier it is the more likely it is that you will see it. Sometimes, two or three individuals follow the ship for hours and you can enjoy trying to estimate the age of each individual from the amount of white on the upper parts. Sometimes they sit on the water next to the ship and you may be able to take a great picture. The Grey-headed Albatross can be seen less frequently but I have seen at least one on every trip. I have never seen these birds follow the ship. So, when you see one concentrate your attention on it and forget about the others. The Royal Albatross is also possible in this area. However, it is extremely difficult to decide with certitude that it is a Royal and not a Wandering. I have convinced myself absolutely only twice, when the birds were so close that I could see the black inner edge of the bill. More about this in the taxonomy section.

Watching carefully among the Wilson Storm-Petrels you will see occasionally some with whitish under parts. With care you will also see a longitudinal blackish stripe bysecting the white lower parts. These are the Black-bellied Storm-Petrels. They like open sea areas and they are found in a proportion of maybe one for every 50 Wilson's. But if you are persistent you will eventually see one. They tend to "walk" less than the Wilson's do and to fly more like a Prion.

I have seen the Blue Petrel only a couple of times. So, you will be lucky if you see it. It is a bit difficult to decide that one is not looking at a Prion and the bird tends not to follow the ship. So, if a candidate appears this should have the highest priority. Prions are seen on almost every trip, but in relatively low numbers. Identifying them to species is a challenge (see section on taxonomy).

Usually, the windier it is and the heavier seas there are, the more pelagic birds are seen. However, on some calm days, it is not energetically worth for the birds to fly. Sometimes, hundreds of birds will sit on the water next to the ship for hours. On 28 January 1996, for example, we were conducting a diel study (sampling the same water mass throughout day and night) and, therefore, we were not moving very much. We had next to us about 80 Black-browed Albatrosses, more than 100 Southern Giant Petrels and Cape Petrels and dozens of Antarctic Petrels, Wilson's and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels and Fulmars. They would slowly swim close to the ship and sometimes they were only two or three meters from the lower deck. They stayed with us during the whole cycle, just resting.


As the ship approaches the shores of the South Shetland Islands pygoscelid penguins and Antarctic Fulmars start to appear. But I will talk about these in the coastal site.

3b) 45˚ West transect

I include here two transects I did in 1998 east (44˚) and west (48˚) of the South Orkney Islands respectively. Even though we visited this area in January, the year 1998 was a record summer for ice, and the ice edge was slightly south of the Orkneys (normally it is 5 or 6 degrees further south). In fact we could not push further south because of the pack ice and we could not visit the scientific stations at the islands for the same reason. Perhaps because of this, we saw Chinstrap Penguins almost every day (8 out of 10). They were probably based at the Orkneys' colonies and were forced to fish in the open waters we were visiting. The gang of four was present every day. An interesting difference with the Drake Passage was the simultaneous presence of Northern and Southern Giant Petrels. I have never been able to identify the former in the Drake Passage or in the Antarctic Peninsula area, but it was very abundant here. It was strange to see together two birds that are so similar. The Northern Giant Petrel is not considered to be present south of the Polar Front. However, it was very abundant on this cruise.

As in the Drake Passage, Wandering Albatross was seen at the northern sections of the transects (north of the 59˚ parallel), but not in the southern portion. It appears that this bird likes open sea even if it is cold, but not the areas close to the ice edge. Southern Fulmar was seen 7 out of 10 days, usually in the areas closer to the Orkneys. This bird is always more abundant close to shores than in open waters. It appears to be less pelagic than the Northern Fulmar. Two other frequently seen birds were the White-chinned Petrel (8 days) and the Black-bellied Storm-Petrel (7 days). Both were much more abundant here than in the Drake Passage.

Some birds were seen occasionally, such as Prions (probably vittata, 5 days), Snow Petrel (2 days), Antarctic Skua (2 days) and Antarctic Tern (1 day). The latter three were seen usually close to the ice edge or to the Orkneys, the only exception being one truly pelagic sighting of an Antarctic Skua. Finally, one day I saw my first Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. This impressive bird seems to increase in abundance towards the East.

3c) 0˚ transect

I have done this transect only once, but the trip from Cape Town to the German base G. von Neumayer takes about 10 days, so that the total number of days I have spent at this longitude is similar to those in the other transects. It was in March, and the rest of the cruise took place in May and April (Austral fall). Thus, there were very few animals in the southern area visited, especially in the packice. The only break in the monotony of the open sea is the Island of Bouvetøya, slightly south of the Polar Front. I have already described it at the Oceanic Islands Site.

Of the three longitudinal transects I am describing here, this was the one with the most species. For example, I saw 13 species of petrels and 7 species of albatrosses. The gang of four was less abundant at this longitude. Both the Southern and Northern Giant Petrels were only seen in the vicinity of Bouvetøya and Cape Petrel was present only south of the island. Wilson's Storm-Petrels were only seen two days between 41 and 45 degrees south and Black-bellied Storm-petrels only once at 55˚ south.

Among the albatrosses there was a very marked difference between those common north or south of the Polar Front. North of it, Wandering and Black-browed were seen almost every day (5 days) whereas Grey-headed and Sooty were seen half of the days. White-capped and Yellow-nosed were only seen north of the 40˚ parallel as already mentioned in the South African pelagic. Except for one sighting of one Black-browed at 67 south, none of these albatrosses were seen south of Bouvetøya. Only the Light-mantled Sooty was abundant on both sides of the Polar front. I saw several individuals every day (up to a magnificent maximum of 9 together) between 49 and 67 degrees south on 6 consecutive days.

The same differences in distribution could be seen among the Petrels. Thus, White-chinned Petrels were abundant and seen every day north of the Polar Front, but never south of it. Other petrels seen only north of the front were very scarce: Soft-plumaged, Great-winged and Atlantic Petrels were seen only one day between 45 and 49 degrees south.

At the other side of the front Cape Petrels were frequent (but never as abundant as in the Drake Passage). At Bouvetøya, and 4˚ south of it, Kerguelen Petrels were extremely abundant and both Southern Fulmar and Blue Petrels were seen with some frequency. Finally, Snow Petrels and Antarctic Petrels (up to 50 in one day) were only seen south of the 67 parallel. During the last part of the transect (south of parallel 67) three birds died by crashing into the ship at night. They were soon frozen and preserved for us to sadly collect them in the morning. We had a Snow Petrel and the only Kerguelen Petrel seen this far south, as well as the only Prion we were able to identify with certainty (in the hand!). It was a desolata Prion. In fact Prions were seen more often north of the Polar Front and we suspected they were desolata too. But we could only confirm it for this one unlucky individual.

On the very last day of the transect, when we were already next to the ice pack, we saw our first Emperor Penguins.

4. Ice pack

The Antarctic ice pack is a huge and dynamic system that expands and retracts every year, affecting the ecology of the Southern Ocean dramatically. Some birds seem especially adapted to live in the intermediate area between the solid ice pack and the open sea. This area may be far north or very far south depending on the year. For example we found it at the latitude of the Orkneys in February 1998, but it was almost 6 degrees south in January 1994. The ice-edge zone involves all degrees of ice cover: from solid pack ice with trapped icebergs to almost totally open waters with only icebergs or growlers floating around.

Some birds are especially abundant in this area. The Antarctic Petrel and the Snow Petrel are the two most typical birds, together with Adelie Penguins in the western part of the area I have visited, and Emperors and Adelies in the eastern part. In addition this area is great for mammals. Not only whales are abundant but also Antarctic Fur Seals and Crabeater Seals are frequently seen laying on ice floes or swimming around. On 27 January 1998 we were trying to sample next to the ice from the Spanish ship "Hespérides". It was very windy and cold. Through the fog we could see the dark shapes of Antarctic Fur Seals on the white ice floes pointing their conical snouts up. But the strange thing was that hundreds of birds were flying around the ship as if in a carrousel: dozens of Cape Petrels, Prions, Wilson's and Black-bellied Storm-petrels, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, White-chinned and Snow Petrels were flying at full speed and turning around. I could not understand what was going on.

In April 2000, on board the German icebreaker "Polarstern", I had the privilege of pushing through the packice to 72˚ south. Being already in the fall, most animals had already left for more northern latitudes. It was surprising to see how heterogeneous the packice is, with open water areas, iceberg fields, areas of pancake ice and immense expanses of just flat ice. The vast dimension of solitude was only broken by the eventual appearance of walking or swimming Emperor Penguins. It is a tribute to the amazing capacity of life to adapt that these birds can survive in these most extreme environment on the planet.

5. Antarctic Coasts

All birds and mammals (except for whales) need ice-free land to breed. This is a scarce resource around Antarctica. Therefore, almost every piece of land without ice is packed with animals during the summer. It is no coincidence that human scientific stations coincide many times with penguin colonies: there is simply not enough free space around. There are also some birds that are only found relatively close to shores all the time, such as cormorants. A few scavengers such as skuas and sheatbills police all these colonies.

I have visited the South Shetland Islands on many occasions, especially Livingston and Deception Island where the two Spanish stations are located and King George Island with one of the few airstrips in the area. I have also been within sight of the South Orkneys, on the Antarctic Peninsula at Hope Bay and along the western side down to the Gerlache Strait. This is the area most commonly visited by tourist and birding trips. And it is no wonder: the Gerlache Strait, the Lemaire Channel, Paradise Bay, are some of the most beautiful places I have seen.

The pelagic birds described so far are not seen anymore. Proximity of land usually implies Kelp Gulls and Antarctic Skuas (in this area South Polar Skuas are rarely seen). Even closer to land, Bransfield Cormorants are very common and an occasional Sheathbill will appear. In the Bransfield and Gerlache Straits Southern Fulmars are rather abundant. On the other side of the Peninsula, in the Weddell Sea area, the common sight is an iceberg full of resting Adelie penguins looking curiously at the ship.

Humpback Whales are fairly common. If you look at the horizon intently for some 15 minutes, you will almost certainly see the bushy blows of a couple of Humpbacks. And many times they approach the vessel and actually look at you from only a few meters away! Other mammals seen very frequently are Crabeater Seals and Antarctic Fur Seals resting on ice floes. More rarely you will see a Leopard Seal.

6. Penguin colony at Deception island

Then the big day comes. This is the day you are going to go to step on land! This is certainly a lifetime experience. If everything I have mentioned up to now had not existed and what comes next were the only experience in the trip, it would alone make a visit to Antarctica the trip of one's life. Because, of course, you are going to land next to a penguin colony. There are three common species of penguins in this area, all belonging to the genus Pygoscelis: Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adelie. I have visited one big colony of each: Adelies next to the Argentinean Esperanza station, Gentoos across the Bay from the Chilean and Russian stations in King George Island, and Chinstraps at Vapor Coul, about an hour walk from the Spanish station in Deception Island.

Deception Island is one of the most peculiar (and most touristic) places in Antarctica. It is an active caldera. But the rim has a gap and the sea enters the inner part of the caldera filling it with seawater. The gap is called Neptune's Bellows and it is a narrow passage flanked by steep cliffs of red and black volcanic rocks on both sides. There is a submarine needle in the middle of the channel and this forces ships to enter really close to one of the cliffs. In fact, ship with more than 8 m of draw do not risk passing the bellows. The inner sea is called Foster Port. As one enters the port, the left hand cliffs have a colony of Chinstrap penguins with nests almost hanging vertically. Once the Bellow's are over, this colony is followed by a black volcanic sand beach where Antarctic Sea Lions are frequently present. They are, however, very difficult to see from the ship. On the right hand, one can see Whaler's Bay. This place accumulates a considerable amount of history. A Chilean-Norwegian whaling venture was established here. The big boilers to melt the lard and the tanks to store the oil are still there, rusting slowly. One of the boats used to hunt the whales is grounded on the beach. It is amazing that anybody would dare to sail with such a small boat in the Southern Ocean and manage to get a whale! To the right of the beach there is a dent  in the rim of the caldera called the Chilean's Window. It is said that a lookout was posted here screening the horizon for whale blows. It is worth climbing it, since it is a good place to see Cape Petrels nesting at relatively close range. On the other side of the oil tanks, there are the remains of a British station. It was abandoned after an eruption destroyed part of the premises. You can see an aeroplane, the huge hangar, and you can walk inside the Biscoe House to try to get an idea of how life used to be several decades ago. There are still old magazines laying on the floor. Continuing along the beach, there is an area of hot water springs with plenty of microbial mats. Further away another beach usually has Weddell Seals. This is one of the best places to see them. Another one is Telegraph Bay, also inside Deception Island. The whole area is dotted by whale bones in stark contrast to the dark lava.

Further inside of Foster Port, one can see two station to the southwest. A Spanish station and an Argentinian station. Scientists at the Spanish station carry out research on vulcanology (not surprisingly) and penguin behaviour. My last visit to the station was memorable. It was Christmas day of 1998 and the weather was fantastic. This part of Antarctica is usually cloudy and windy, but this day it was splendidly sunny. We went ashore with the Zodiacs at 9 and jumped on shore at the pebble beach in front of the Spanish tation, affectionately named "el Naranjito". We were then joined by the ornithologists working at the station and started the one hour walk to the penguin colony. First we walked along the beach, passing by many fumaroles of this still active volcanic island. Upon reaching the Argentinian station we turned away from the shore and walked around the freshwater Irizar Lagoon. It was so sunny that we had to begin taking clothes off. Then we started climbing the scree slopes of the caldera. The view from the ridge was breathtaking. We could see the whole Foster Port, the inner sea of Deception Island. Our ship, the "Hespérides", was a small red and white shape in the middle of the shining water. Far away and above the ridges on the opposite side of the caldera we could see the snowy summits of Livingston Island. Then we walked over the ridge into the southern side of the Island and the penguin colony became visible. The black scree slope descended to the sea punctuated by snow fields. In the distance several icebergs were floating on the blue waters and the tiny dots of the penguin nests covered almost all the available land.

The first impression was that of being within a TV documentary. One almost expected to see David Attenborough appear at any minute to explain some detail of the penguin's biology. Then it was the noise and the stench that hit us: the combined voices of thousands of penguins and the smell of tons of whitish and reddish excrements forming star shaped figures around each nest. But as we approached the penguins, we did not notice the smell anymore and we could enjoy the birds.

"The colony is not the chaotic accumulation of nests it appears to be" explained Antonio, one of the ornithologists at the Station. "Rather, it is organized into districts, there are roads to go to the sea and to come back to the nests. And each district has high class areas and poor areas." The best neighborhoods are at the center of each district. Here the nests are better protected from predators. On the other hand, at the outskirts, chick survival is lower due to increased predation. Antonio and his colleagues had covered some areas with a net. The net did not bother the penguins at all, but it prevented predator attacks from above, by skuas, gulls and giant petrels. By comparing to areas without nets, scientists could determine the effects of predation on chick survival.

Another study involved the peculiar custom of pebble robbery. Nests are made by a small truncated cone of pebbles. Penguins are almost constantly trying to steal pebbles from their neighbors' nests to increase their own. It was not clear what was the purpose of the pebbles and the stealing. After a summer storm, however, scientists could see that only the eggs in nests high enough to be above the melting snow survived. When they added snow artificially to the outside of some nests, they could see that penguins robbed more stones than those without snow around their nests did. This way, they increased the size of their nests and minimized the risks of flooding.

The behavior of the penguins is fascinating and it develops in front of one's eyes. There is constantly something happening. A pair exchange places taking care of the chicks with a very stylized ritual. Two large and fluffy chicks run after one of their parents until only one remains and gets fed. Six or seven penguins start singing together in a choir (function of this unknown). Plus, there is the constant traffic of adults going to fish or coming back to feed the chicks. In some studies, scientists have placed scales under some nests. In this way, the weight of the chicks could be measured continuously from a distance. When one of the parents comes back from fishing and feeds them, they may almost double their weight in just a few minutes. But then, they start loosing weight rather fast (they must burn a lot of the energy just to keep warm). When the other parent comes from fishing, between 4 and 6 days later, the weight of the chick is only a little more than before the previous feeding. If the parent is late by one day, the chick may have actually lost weight. This is a demonstration that chicks live at the limit. Any small problem and they will not be able to survive. This is one more reason not to bother the penguins when you visit a colony. Approach them always slowly and trying to kneel down to make your size smaller. Do not get closer than a few meters or you will cause unnecessary stress. And, of course never try to catch one. Aside from the stress for the penguin, their beaks are a powerful weapon and they point them at your eyes!

Although colonies tend to be dominated by one of the three species, they almost always include a few pairs of the other two. So it is worth looking around if you still have not seen them. Colonies are usually scavenged and predated by several other birds: Antarctic Skuas, Kelp Gulls, Sheathbills, and Southern Giant Petrels. Depending on the particular colony, there may be other nesting birds in the area, such as Cape Petrels, Bransfield Cormorants, Skuas or Antarctic Terns. Both Skuas and Terns are extremely aggressive if one approaches their nests. Terns will even hit you in the head. Pairs of skuas will mount a strategy of approaching you from the back when the other is distracting you and they will pass very close to you. Given their beaks this is not nice. Although not common in the area, South Polar Skuas and Arctic Terns are occasionally seen.

In the scarce snow-free land around the colony it is usually possible to see mammals. Southern Elephant Seals are very frequently seen in small groups. They do not reproduced here but are resting while they moult and both males and females can be seen together, lazily dozing on top of each other. In some places there are resting Weddell Seals, but I have seen these much less frequently. At some particular beaches, Antarctic Fur Seals can also be seen. These two mammals are particularly easy to see at the inner bay in Deception Island. Finally, Leopard Seals frequently scout the waters next to penguin colonies. This way they can catch penguins on their way to fishing or back to the colonies relatively easily. At Vapor Coul it gave as mixed feelings to see this huge seal shaking penguins in its mouth every 10 minutes or so, since this meant two more chicks damned to die.


This sections summarizes the main identification problems I have found in this area and the traits and strategies I have found useful at sea. Harrison's book (the one with drawings) is a must.


The Pygoscelis penguins in this area are very easy to identify on land (or on icebergs). However, when a group passes by the ship porpoising like dolphins it is not that easy. One has to hope that they stop for a few seconds to look around in order to see their faces. The Emperor Penguin is unmistakable no matter how you see it.

The two Spheniscus penguins, one in South America and one in South Africa are also unmistakable. Finally, the two Eudyptes penguins: the Rockhopper and the Macaroni need to be seen at close range to be identified. I have only seen the second and only as tiny spots in the distance. This was in Bouvetøya and we knew they were Macaronis because the colony at the island is well known. I guess I can not count this species in my life list…


There are two main problems. The first concerns the identification of the Royal Albatross. Harrison has a rather detailed description of the way in which the birds age. In theory, younger birds should be easy to tell apart from young Wandering Albatrosses by the way the white starts to develop on the upper parts. All the younger birds I have seen were clearly Wandering Albatross. With adults the matter becomes quite tricky. In order to decide it is a Royal one has to make sure that the tail outer feathers are not black and, preferably, that the inner edges of the beak are dark. This is not easy at sea. As explained earlier I have only convinced myself twice that I was looking at a Royal, when I could see the dark edges of the beak at very close range because the bird came within a few meters of the ship.

The second problem concerns juveniles of Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses. Again Harrison provides enough information to tell them apart. However, in order to use it, you must memorize the diagnostic features beforehand. Otherwise the bird will be flying away in the distance and it will be too late.

South of Cape Town, Yellow-nosed and White-capped Albatrosses can be told apart from the other small albatrosses (Black-browed and Grey-headed) by the thin black edges to the under wings. And they can be easily separated from each other by the "thumbmark" and the base of the leading edge of the under wing in all stages of White-capped. This "thumbmark" can be seen amazingly well at sea.

Sooty and Light-mantled are unmistakable. They are perhaps the most beautiful birds at sea. Their long slender wings give them a very elegant appearance and their flight is spectacular.

Giant Petrels

The Southern and the Northern can be differentiated by the color of the tip of the bill: reddish in Northerns and greenish in Southerns. It takes a bit of practice, but it is relatively easy once you become used to look for the beaks. After a while it becomes very easy to spot the Northerns because their red-tipped bill gives them the appearance of a cartoon drunkard. Another easy character if the birds are not juveniles is the leading edge of the wings: whitish in Southerns and dark in Northerns.

Antarctic and Cape Petrels

These two birds are sort of similar in general appearance, even though they belong to different genera. The Antarctic petrel is more brownish and the white on the upper wings is all concentrated on the posterior edge of the wings, not forming a checker board pattern as in the Cape Petrel. The latter are usually found in large groups while the Antarctic Petrel is usually seen alone or in pairs and almost always close to the ice edge.

Blue Petrel and Prions

I have found that the best clue to identify the Blue Petrel is to look for an alternation of dark and light areas on the upper parts. Starting from the tail there are a thin white stripe, a black area, a light bluish uppertail, dark lower back band, light blue mantle and dark back of the head. The Prions have more uniform upper parts. Discriminating among prions is probably the most difficult challenge in these waters. It does not help that the number of recognized species varies between 3 and 6. It does not help either that they fly very fast, changing position constantly and disappearing behind waves when one is about to see the key character… Even after careful studying of both of Harrison's books, the individuals I see always appear to be intermediate forms. Only on three occasions did I decide I was seeing vittata or desolata Prions (see species list). In two cases because they flew around the ship during almost an hour. And the third time because one individual crashed against the ship and I had it in my hands.

Snow Petrel and White-chinned Petrel

Do not confuse Snow Petrels with the white morph of Southern Giant Petrel. The Snow Petrel is much smaller and graceful. The beak is black and slender. However, the first time one sees the white morph of the Southern Giant Petrel one may be confused. The latter is not completely white. It has a few small brownish spots. This white morph seems to be more abundant towards the south of the species distribution. The Snow Petrel on the other hand is completely white (except for beak and legs). We had one in the hand and its plumage was extremely soft and thick. There are black feathers underneath the white cover that apparently help capturing the sun's heat.

Do not confuse the White-chinned Petrel with juveniles of Southern Giant Petrel. The former are smaller, more graceful and with a smaller beak. The color is also a bit more chocolate-like. The white chin may be actually hard to see, but the beak is always light in color (unlike in the juvenile Southern Giant Petrel).


Like Prions this is a taxonomically confusing group. The shags from the Southern Ocean are very similar, but they tend to be sedentary and their colonies are on islands very isolated from each other. Thus, it is not surprising that small differences have developed in different islands. Taxonomists find it difficult to group or split these populations. The latest revision of the cormorants is reflected in the HBW (see references below). It groups the former king (atriceps) and imperial (albiventer) cormorants as different morphs of the same species. These two, as mentioned above, can be seen together in the islands off Ushuaia in the Beagle Channel. The more Antarctic shags in the area described in this report are assigned to the Antarctic Shag (bransfieldensis) in the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetlands or to the South Georgia Shag (georgianus) in the South Orkney Islands.


This is perhaps the only group of birds that is not well treated in Harrison. It would be nice to have more drawings of the intermediate morphs and juveniles. There are three species of concern: the Chilean, the Antarctic and the South Polar Skuas. The Chilean is only found in the northern part of the area covered in this report. I have seen it in the Beagle Channel, where the most common is the Antarctic Skua. The latter appears in different shades and depending on the light conditions one may think they are Chilean. This stops being a problem once you have seen your first real Chilean and get a better feeling for the cinnamon color in the underparts.

Close to the southern continent it is the Antarctic and South Polar skuas than can be found together. Typical Antarctic and typically light morphs of South Polar are very easy to tell apart. The problem is that the few South Polars in Western Antarctica many times belong to other darker morphs and it becomes tricky to tell them apart. Also, the Atarctic Skua is more variable than one may think. Thus, I have only counted as sightings of South Polars the two cases in which I could see light morphs. One of them actually was flying straight to me while I was filming it on video! But this probably underestimates the abundance of this species in The Antarctic Peninsula area.


HBW. del Hoyo, J., A. Elliot and J. Sargatal (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain. Volume 1 (1992) and Volume 3 (1994) are relevant.

Harrison, P. Seabirds. An identification guide. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, U.S.A. 1983. THE BOOK. Many birds that were impossible to separate with conventional guides were easy to tell apart thanks to this marvelous book. Despite its weight I always travel with it if there is a chance to do marine birdwatching.

Harrison, P. Seabirds of the World. A Photographic Guide. Christopher Helm, A&C Black, London, U.K., 1987. It is a nice, but not essential, addition to Harrison's former book. I find that the most useful additions are the comparative line drawings at the end (I always prefer drawings to photographs).

Naveen, R. The Oceanites Site Guide to the Antarctic Peninsula. Oceanites, P.O. Box 15259, Chevy Chase, 20825 Maryland, U.S.A., 1997. This booklet provides a very detailed description of the bird and animal populations on the Antarctic Peninsula and adjacent islands. It describes the landing places and the distribution of sensitive zones to avoid.

Carwardine, M. Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises- The visual guide to all the world's cetaceans. Eyewitness handbooks. Dorling Kindersley, London, U.K., 1995. The best guide I know for cetaceans.

Soper, T. and D. Scott (illustrator). Antarctica. Bradt Wildlife Guides. Bradt Publishers. 3rd edition, 2000. Even though it is very simple and incomplete it is a very nice book to have and to show to non-birding friends. Besides, there is no description of the seals and fur seals in the other guides.

Narosky, T. and D. Yzurieta. Guía para la identificación de las aves de Argentina y Uruguay. Vázquez Mazzini Editores, Buenos Aires, Argentina 1993. The best guide for the southern tip of South America (in my view much better than the de la Peña Collins guide). The drawings could be better but the descriptions are extremely precise. There is an translation into English.

Newmann, K. Newman's Birds of Southern Africa. Southern Book Publishers, Halfway House 1685, Cape Town, South Africa. 1990. One of the many excellent guides of Southern African birds.

Guía turística Turistel. Turismo y Comunicaciones SA, Santiago, Chile. Three volume guide of Chile. Only the volume "Sur. Chillán a la Antártica" needed. Updated annually. Includes information on turistic trips to Antarctica. There is an English version in one volume but it is a few years old.

Guia turística YPF. Editorial San Telmo, SA, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Six volume guide of Argentina. Only the volume "Patagonia y Antártida Argentina" needed. Updated annually.

South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland. Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit. Vic, Australia.


Spheniscidae  6 spp. (+ macaroni)

Emperor Penguin  Aptenodytes forsteri  Pingüino Emperador
Only seen in the southernmost and easternmost part of the area covered here. Particularly on the ice pack. We missed the ice barbecue where they are always welcomed visitors. This is a traditional midcruise party on the Polarstern. But we had technical problems with one of the engines and had to leave the area at full speed.

Gentoo Penguin  Pygoscelis papua  Pingüino Juanito
Colonies in King George and Livingston Islands. Not commonly seen on icebergs. A few couples always present in colonies of other species. Stray individuals possible in Beagle Channel Islands.

Adelie Penguin  Pygoscelis adeliae  Pingüino de Adelia
The most commonly seen on icebergs and on the icepack. Big colonies at Esperanza Bay and Palmer Station. The most southern in distribution of the three pygoscelid penguins.

Chinstrap Penguin  Pygoscelis antarctica  Pingüino Barbijo
Probably the most abundant in the area of the South Shetlands and the western Antarctic Peninsula. The most commonly seen swimming and porpoising. Huge colonies in Deception Island.

Macaroni Penguin  Eudyptes chrysolophus  Pingüino Macarrones
I have only seen tiny dots of one of their colonies at Bouvetøya. Stray individuals can be seen in the Beagle Channel islands and there are some small colonies in the South Shetlands.

Jackass Penguin  Spheniscus demersus  Pingüino de El Cabo
Common close to South African coasts.

Magellanic Penguin  Spheniscus magellanicus  Pingüino Magallánico
Common in Beagle Channel and Straits of Magellan.

Diomedeidae  8 spp.

Wandering Albatross  Diomedea exulans  Albatros Viajero
Seen about 50% of the days spent in open ocean areas. Specially easy to see when the winds are stronger. Impressive and a lot of fun to try to judge the age.

Royal Albatross  Diomedea epomorfa  Albatros Real
Very rare in the area. I have never seen a subadult. The fully developed adults are hard to separate from Wanderings at sea. Only twice have I convinced myself: 16january98 at 58 degrees south close to the Orkneys and 13december98 in the Drake Passage. But my conservative approach may have underestimated its abundance.

Black-browed Albatross  D. melanophrys  Albatros Ojeroso
One of the gang of four. The most abundant albatross, sometimes hundreds together. Also the most commonly seen close to coastal areas, even within the Beagle Channel. Despite being very abundant it is beautiful. I would never get tired of taking pictures of it.

Yellow-nosed Albatross  D. chlororhynchos  Albatros Clororinco
Frequently seen south of Cape Town. I have only seen one juvenile on 19march00.

White-capped Albatross  D. cauta  Albatros Frentiblanco
Frequently seen south of Cape Town. I saw three juvenile on 18march00.

Grey-headed Albatross  D. chrysostoma  Albatros Cabecigrís
It is unfrequently seen throughout the area. Often juveniles. Does not follow ships. I have seen this birds on 10 different occasions, always in completely pelagic waters and almost always single individuals.

Sooty Albatross  Phoebetria fusca  Albatros Ahumado
Only 3 individuals seen at 45 and 49 degrees south in the 0° longitude transect (22 and 23march00).

Light-manteld Albatross  Phoebetria palpebrata  Albatros Tiznado
Seen in the two eastern transects. More abundant towards the East, where seen on six consecutive days, both north and south of the Polar Front (23-28march00). Never seen in the Drake Passage area.

Procellariidae  16 spp.

Southern Giant Petrel  Macronectes giganteus  Abanto-marino Antártico
The most widespread member of the "gang of four." Seen almost every day both in coastal areas and in open sea. At the eastern transect seen only near Bouvetøya. It looks and acts like a vulture. White morphs quite frequent in the southermost area of distribution.

Northern Giant Petrel  M. halli  Abanto-marino Subantártico
Twin of the previous species. I never saw it in the western part of the area covered. It was mixed with southerns in the central and eastern sections. In the Orkneys it was found very close to the ice edge.

Southern Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialoides  Fulmar Austral
A few individuals can be seen in open sea and even next to Ushuaia. However they are only abundant (seen about 60% of the days) in the southern part of the area, especially in the Bransfield and Gerlache Straits. Not seen in the eastern transect, perhaps because it was already fall.

Antarctic Petrel  Thalassoica antarctica  Petrel Antártico
Seen only close to the continent or to the pack ice. Usually singly or in pairs. However, 50 seen on 28march00.

Cape Petrel  Daption capense  Petrel Damero
Another member of the "gang of four." In my experience it was always more abundant south of the Polar Front rather than north. It was seen daily and in large numbers both in open sean and close to shores.

Snow Petrel  Pagodroma nivea  Petrel Níveo
Only seen close to the ice-edge (seen about 40% of the days). Usually alone or in small groups. One crashed against the ship on 29march00 at 70 degrees south.

Great-winged Petrel  Pterodroma macroptera  Petrel Aligrande
Three on 22march00 at about 45 degrees south in the eastern transect.

Atlantic (Schlegel's) Petrel  Pterodroma incerta  Petrel de Schlegel
Two on 23march00 at about 48 degrees south in the eastern transect.

Kerguelen Petrel  Pterodroma brevirostris  Petrel de las Kerguelen
Hundreds flying in sight of Bouvetøya. One crashed against the ship on 28march00 at 67 degrees south.

Soft-plumaged Petrel  Pterodroma mollis  Petrel Suave
Two on 22march00 at about 45 degrees south in the eastern transect.

Blue Petrel  Halobaena caerulea  Petrel Azulado
Rare. One on 14 January 1996 at 58 degrees south in the Drake Passaga. 4 on 26march00 at 60 degrees south.

Prions  Pachyptila spp.  Priones
Prions are seen approximately 50% of the days spent in pelagic seas, south of the Polar Front. Usually alone or in pairs, but sometimes dozens appear together. Normally, it is very difficult to identify them to species. See the two following species.

Antarctic Prion  Pachyptila desolata  Pato-petrel Antártico
Identified with certitude only twice. On 22 January 1996, a pair flew next to the ship for a long time west of Livingston Island. On 28 March 2000 one crashed against the ship in the eastern Weddell Sea close to the South Polar Circle.

Broad-billed Prion  Pachyptila vittata  Pato-petrel Piquiancho
Only identified with confindence once. On 17 January 1998 east of the South Orkney Islands. A couple followed the ship for a long time.

White-chinned Petrel  Procellaria aequinoctialis  Pardela Gorgiblanca
More abundant towards the east of the area covered. Thus, it was seen only sporadically in the Drake transect, but 80% of the days in the two eastern transects. More individuals (58 in six consecutive days) were present in the eastern than in the Orkneys transect.

Great Shearwater  Puffinus gravis  Pardela Capirotada
A few individuals seen at the mouth of the Beagle Channel.

Sooty Shearwater  Puffinus griseus  Pardela Sombría
Hundreds always at the mouth of the Beagle Channel. Also present in large numbers inside the Beagle.

Oceanitidae  2 spp.

Wilson's Storm-PetreOceanites oceanicus  Paílo de Wilson
The smallest member of the "gang of four." Seen almost daily south of the Polar Front, both in pelagic and coastal areas. Less abundant in the eastern transect, but this might be the consequence of season.

Black-bellied Storm-Petrel  Fregetta tropica  Paíño Ventrinegro
Irregularly seen. Usually single individuals in pelagic waters, but very abundant near Bouvetøya.

Pelecanoididae  1 sp.

Magellan Diving-Petrel  Pelecanoides magellani  Potoyunco Magallánico
Seen only once in the Beagle Channel.

Sulidae  1 sp.

Cape Gannet  Sula capensis  Alcatraz de El Cabo
Common south of Cape Town.

Phalacrocoracidae  6 spp.

Cape Cormorant  Phalacrocorax capensis  Cormorán de El Cabo
Common close to Cape Town.

White-breasted Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo  Cormorán Grande
Common close to Cape Town.

Rock Shag  Phalacrocorax magellanicus  Cormorán Magallánico
Frequently seen in small numbers in the Beagle Channel. Nests in the islands in front of Ushuaia.

Imperial Shag  Phalacrocorax atriceps  Cormorán Imperial
King Shag  Phalacrocorax albiventer  Cormorán Real
Now considered two morphs of the same species. Very common in Beagle Channel. Colony in islands off Ushuaia, where both forms can be seen together.

Antarctic Shag  Phalacrocorax bransfieldiensis  Cormorán Antártico
Always present in small numbers close to shore in the South Shetlands and the Antarctic Peninsula, especially near penguin colonies.

South Georgia Shag  Phalacrocorax georgianus  Cormorán de Georgia
Many individuals in the vicinity of the South Orkney Islands.

Chionidae  1 sp.

Yellow-billed Sheathbill  Chionis alba  Picovaina de Malvinas
Commonly seen in small numbers around penguin colonies and groups of seals. Occasionally, one seen flying above water (this has happened twice to me), but always in the proximity of land. It can be found in the Beagle Channel and as far north as the Valdés Península and Mar del Plata in Argentina.

Stercoraridae  3 spp.

South Polar Skua  Catharacta maccormicki  Págalo Polar
Seen with certainty only twice. One flying next to King George Island, from the ship anchored in front of the Uruguayan Station Artigas (6feb96). One attacking us in the hills above the Spanish Station in Deception Island (24dec98). I could film it coming straight at me!

Brown (Antarctic) Skua  Catharacta antarctica  Págalo Subantártico
The most common skua in the area. Isolated individuals seen in truly pelagic areas. Most often close to shores and, specially, next to penguin colonies. It is common to have semidomesticated skuas next to some stations (for example in King George Island). These will come and eat from your hand if you offer them something. Although this practice should not be carried out anywhere and much less in Antarctica, it seems unavoidable that our fellow human beings isolated in these stations for long months, will develop some kind of a relationship with their neighbors.

Chilean Skua  Catharacta chilensis  Págalo Chileno
I have only seen this skua once in the Beagle Channel (27nov98).

Laridae  4 spp.

Dolphin Gull  Leucophaeus scoresbii  Gaviota Patagona
Several pairs always seen in Ushuaia harbor. Not seen in the Beagle Channel or further away from land.

Kelp Gull  Larus dominicanus  Gaviota Cocinera
Never very abundant but always present close to shore: At the Beagle Channel, close to Cape Town, in the Gerlache Strait and in the Bransfield Strait. Not seen in the Weddell Sea, at Bouvetøya or at South Orkneys.

Brown-hooded Gull  Larus maculipennis  Gaviota Cahuil
Abundant near Ushuaia.

Hartlaub's (Silver) Gull  Larus hartlaubii  Gaviota Plateada Surafricana
Abundant near Cape Town.

Sternidae  4 spp.

Greater Crested Tern  Sterna bergii  Charrán Piquigualdo
One seen off Cape Town on 18march00.

South American Tern  Sterna hirundinacea  Charrán Sudamericano
Very common in Beagle Channel.

Arctic Tern  Sterna paradisaea  Charrán Artico
A few individuals seen in Antarctic zones. Easy to tell appart by their non breeding plumage. One seen in Paradise Bay on 2feb96.

Antartic Tern  Sterna vittata  Charrán Antártico
A few pairs always breeding close to penguin colonies and/or scientific stations. Seen close to pack ice on 26 and 28jan98.


Mammals  13 spp.

Fin Whale  Balaenoptera physalus  Rorcual Común
Seen only once.

Minke Whale  Balaenoptera acutorostrata  Rorcual Minke
The smallest whale in the zone. Seen a couple of times next to the ship (19jan96 in Gerlache Strait and 24jan96 in Drake Passage).

Humpback Whale  Megaptera novaeangliae  Yubarta
The most common whale in the area. Specially abundant in the Gerlache and Bransfield Straits. Look for the white underparts of the flukes and the "hump". Usually in pairs, but fifty seen together amidst the pack ice on 15april00.

Sperm Whale  Physeter macrocephalus,  Cachalote
One seen in the Weddell Sea. The dorsal fin is very characteristic.

Southern Bottlenose Whale  Hyperoodon planifrons  Calderón hocico austral
One seen close to the Orkneys.

Leopard Seal  Hydrurga leptonyx  Foca leopardo
Seen sporadically resting on ice floes (12jan98 near Livingston Island and 3apr00 on pack ice). I have seen actively hunting individuals at Vapor Coul penguin rookery. It is very snake-like.

Weddell Seal  Leptonychotes weddelli  Foca de Weddell
I have seen it in the inner beaches of Deception Island, where always present. In particular there seem to be always a few individuals west of the destroyed British Station and Whale factory. Also seen on the pack ice in April 2000. They are big, grey with white spots and cute (with a flat rounded face and big eyes).

Crabeater Seal  Lobodon carcinophagus  Foca cangrejera
The most abundant seal on ice floes. Especially common and approachable in Paradise Bay (Gerlache Strait). They are brownish and with a protruding snout (dog like).

Southern Elephant Seal  Mirounga leonina  Elefante marino sur
Small groups or isolated individuals common in many beaches. Specially abundant in northern beach across the airstrip in the Chilean Station Teniente Marsh in King George Island. It is big, brownish and with a face that remainds one of the Weddell seal. Adult males show the characteristic small trunk.

South American Sea Lion  Otaria flavescens  Lobo marino de un pelo
Colony in the islands in front of Ushuaia. They are dark brown and very much wolf-like.

South American Fur Seal  Arctocephalus australis  Lobo marino dos pelos
A few groups in the islands in front of Ushuaia. They are also dark brown but with a very pointed snout.

Antarctic Fur Seal  Arctocephalus gazella, Lobo marino antártico
Seen most frequently on ice floes in the ice-edge zone. Several individuals in Deception Island and next to Argentinian Station Jubany at King George Island. The only fur seal in Antarctica.

Cape Fur Seal  Arctocephalos pusillus  Lobo marino de El Cabo
Common in Cape Town and waters close to shore. The only fur seal near South Africa.

Carlos Pedrós-Alió
Barcelona, Spain


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