Southern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides)


Meet the Southern fulmar (Figure 1), Fulmarus glacialoides, one of the most elegant seabirds from the Family Procellariidae. Also known as silver-grey fulmar and Antarctic fulmar, this species is found in plentiful abundance in the Southern Ocean, with an estimated breeding population of “several million” around the Scotia Arc area and the Antarctic Peninsula (Crozall et al., 1984).

The Southern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides) in flight, taken in Tasmania, Australia. Author: JJ Harrison. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.

Figure 1: The Southern fulmar in flight, taken in Tasmania, Australia. Author: JJ Harrison (CC BY-SA 3.0).

The family Procellariidae also comprises the gadfly petrels (Pterodroma spp.), the prions (Pachyptila spp. and Halobaena caerulea), and the shearwaters (mostly of the genera Calonectris and Puffinus).

The taxon was first described by Sir Andrew Smith (Figure 2), a Scottish naturalist from the late 19th Century, based on a specimen collected from the Cape of Good Hope. The Southern fulmar’s first taxonomic classification placed it in the genus Procellaria. However, in 1949, this was reclassified to Fulmarus, the same genus as its sibling, the Northern fulmar (F. glacialis), a revision justified by mitochondrial DNA (cytochrome b) phylogenies (Nunn and Stanley, 1998). Although similar in appearance to its namesake, there is no overlap in area where both species occur.

Antique Lithograph from Andrew Smith’s "Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa", published in 1838-49, London.

Figure 2: Antique lithograph from Sir Andrew Smith’s “Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa“, published in 1838-49, London.

With their large distribution, many Southern fulmars migrate north during winter months to areas along the coasts of the Falkland Islands, South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, with the occasional migration to tropical latitudes (Creuwels et al., 2007). They somewhat resemble gulls in their appearance, with a white head, silver-grey neck and mantle, which gradually becomes darker towards the back and upperwings. Its bill was featured on Beak of the Week on the 16th of November. Though not visible from the scan, the beak is typically pale pink with a black tip. Large nasal tubes on the top of the bill cover the blue-grey tubular nostrils.

Southern Fulmars feeding in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Liam Quinn from Canada.

Figure 3: Southern fulmars feeding in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica. Author: Liam Quinn (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Southern fulmar breeds on steep rocky slopes and cavities on precipitous cliff edges, feeding on fish (normally Pleuragramma antarcticum and Electrona antarctica), Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) and various squid species (Figure 3). Currently classified as “Least Concern” according to the IUCN (Figure 4), there is currently no evidence of serious threats to its global breeding population. In fact, some argue that an increase in fishery activities could have positive effects through a greater supply of discards, and less competition for food resources (Creuwels et al., 2007). The future remains bright for the Southern fulmar!

The Souther fulmar has an extremely large range and population size, with a stable population trend.

Figure 4: Based on its most recent classification, the Southern fulmar has an extremely large range and population size, with a stable population trend (IUCN, 2016).



Creuwels, JC, Poncet, S, Hodum, PJ, & van Franeker, JA (2007). Distribution and abundance of the Southern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialoides. Polar Biology 30 (9): 1083–1097.

Croxall JP, Prince PA, Hunter I, McInnes SJ, Copestake PG (1984) The seabirds of the Antarctic Peninsula, islands of the Scotia Sea and Antarctic continent between 80°W and 20°W: their status and conservation. In: Croxall JP, Evans PGH, Schreiber RW (eds.) Status and conservation of the world’s seabirds. ICBP, Cambridge, pp 637–666.

IUCN – BirdLife International and Handbook of the Birds of the World (2016) Fulmarus glacialoides. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-3.

Nunn GB, Stanley SE (1998) Body size effects and rates of cytochrome-b evolution in tube-nosed seabirds. Mol Biol Evol 15: 1360–1371.

Science Uncovered 2016


After having a great time showcasing our research last year, we were invited back to take part in the Natural History Museum’s offerings for European Researcher’s Night 2016.


One of the best parts of our role as Research Assistants is the freedom to work with the museum’s collections everyday, moving across all taxa and, at times, preparation methods (study skins, spirit and skeleton specimens) as data collection requires. Without access to such incredible collections, wide-ranging studies such as ours simply wouldn’t be possible and the importance of highlighting the many uses of such diverse and well-maintained resources is becoming increasingly important. When they were collected, primarily during the heyday of Victorian exploration and collecting, nobody could have anticipated the ways in which these specimens would be used. Yet, by preserving them for future generations, this historical material can now be utilised in contemporary science projects, continuing to help us understand the evolving biodiversity of the planet.IMG_8576

There’s no better way to show this than with the real thing so we selected an array of study skins- exactly like those kept in the natural history museum’s ornithology research collections and used in our study- for people to explore up close. Alongside these were a selection of skulls from the museum’s handling collections, ranging from the large, stocky bill of the marabou stork and the curved, pointed bill of the kestrel to the filter feeding bill of a flamingo and the mud-probing bill of an ibis.

With our portable 3D scanner in tow, we were alsIMG_8578o able to give live scanning demonstrations with anyone welcome to have a go at creating their own 3D digital bill model- not as easy as it looks! By demonstrating how we move from a physical specimen to a detailed digital replica it becomes clear why this is only possible with study skins- it would be practically and logistically impossible to replicate this process with living birds in the field.

One of the great things about talking to the public about our research in particular is that anyone interested can actually become a citizen scientist and contribute to the study through the wonders of our crowdsourcing site With over three-quarters of world bird species now uploaded, there are thousands of bills to explore up-close via our gallery as well as opportunities for anyone to have a go at landmarking our 3D scans, assisting with our analysis and helping answer key questions about avian evolution.

In addition to our stand, Principal Investigator Gavin Thomas gave a talk introducing our research and its reliance on ornithology collections. Situated in thIMG_8588e public galleries of the Natural History Museum at Tring- a Victorian zoological collection and display space donated to the NHM by its founder, Walter Rothschild- it was a great opportunity to highlight the value of largely unseen research collections and highlight the questions we are hoping to answer.

Alongside our offerings were demonstrations from expert taxidermists showing how museum specimens are preserved and the opportunity to see some of the manuscript treasures of the Natural History Museum being made available through the digitisation efforts of the amazing Biodiversity Heritage Library. There was also the opportunityscarlet rumped trogon drawing to talk to curators about contemporary museum issues: from a stand exploring the use of bird skins in helping identify material picked up by HM Customs, blocking aircraft engines or contaminating foods to discussions concerning how natural history museums deal with selecting (and declining) new acquisitions.

You can learn more about European Researcher’s Night here, the Natural History Museum at Tring here and us on our team website, twitter and crowdsourcing site!