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 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.
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.
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!
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.