The subantarctic oceans are cold but rich in oxygen, nutrients and sea birds and mammals...

Class Aves: Birds

Order Charadriiformes: Waders & Shorebirds

Family Chionidae: 'Sheathbills'

Snowy Sheathbills over Scotia Sea. Try saying that three times fast!

Chionis albus, 'Snowy Sheathbill'. Flock flying at sea.

Order Procellariiformes: Tubenoses, including Albatross & Petrels

Family Diomedeidae: Albatross

Diomedea spp. 'Great Albatross'

Even identifying between the 'Royal' and 'Wandering' group can be difficult at sea. Generally, the Royal usually does not have black on the tail while the Wandering may have black on the tail, the Royal has a more smoother head-to-bill transition while the Wandering is blockier, the Royal has coarser black and white colouration while the Wandering is smoother. If you get a closer look, one of the best differences is that the Royal has a darker edge to the inner edge of mandibles, producing a dark line along middle of bill.

albatross-wandering-off-south-georgia-copy(between Falklands and South Georgia)

Diomedea exulans, 'Wandering Albatross'. Often considered a complex of species.

Thalassarche spp. 'Mollymawk Albatross'

(off Falklands)

The 'Mollymawk' Albatross are smaller than the Great Diomedea Albatross. Unlike the latter birds, the Mollymawks have a dark back. The different species in the genus can usually be distinguished from each other by their slightly different coloured bills.

(between Falklands and South Georgia)

Thalassarche melanophris, 'Black-browed Mollymawk', view of upperside. Circumpolar: breeds southern South America and New Zealand. 

Black-browed Mollymawk, view of underside

Family Procellariidae: Petrels, Giant Petrels, Shearwaters, Fulmars, Prions

Procellaria spp., 'Petrels'

Mostly dark medium sized seabirds that often glide just above colder southern ocean waters, similar to Shearwaters.

(Scotia Sea)

Procellaria aequinoctialis, 'White-chinned Petrel'. The common name comes from a small patch of white underneath the base of the bill; this is not always visible in the field, but can be seen in the photograph above.

Macronectes spp., 'Giant Petrels'

Northern has darker reddish tip to bill, Southern has greenish or lighter tip.

(between South Georgia and Falklands)

Macronectes giganteus, 'Southern Giant Petrel'.


(Scotia Sea)

Fulmarus glacialoides, 'Southern Fulmar'.

Pagodroma sp.

(Scotia Sea)

Pagodroma nivea, 'Snow Petrel'.


Rhymes with iron, Pry-on, not Pree-on. They are very small and grey, usually with a dark "M" mark spread across wings and back. The species are difficult to tell apart, and identification often has to be based on what is likely to be in the area. 

(between Ushuaia and Falklands)

Pachyptila belcheri, 'Slender-billed Prion'. Long thin bill, large white eyebrow.

(Scotia Sea)

Pachyptila desolata'Antarctic Prion'.

Pelecanoides spp. (formerly Family Pelecanoididae) 'Diving Petrels'

There are four species of Diving Petrels, although the different species are very hard to tell apart.

petrel-diving-common-scotia-sea(Scotia Sea)

Very small stubby seabirds. Appear to be somewhat of a evolutionary convergent southern ocean equivalent of the northern hemisphere Puffins. They fly just above the surface, and smash into the water and fly out again (although you can see them enter the water, it is often hard to see where they exit). To me, their fluttery flight and stumpy body makes them look like 'hummingbird potatoes'.

Family Oceanitidae: '(southern) Austral Storm Petrels'

There is another group of storm petrels that mostly live in the colder northern oceans and seas; however, they are now considered to not be closely related, and are considered as a different family. 

(off the Falklands)

When Storm Petrels are feeding they hover over the surface of the water. They have a distinct and delicate way of moving while doing this, that appears like dancing; it is called pattering.

storm-petrel-wilsons-scotia-sea(Scotia Sea)

Oceanites oceanicus, 'Wilsons Storm Petrel'. The only 'southern' storm petrel that regularly ends up in the northern hemisphere. One of the most abundant birds in the world.

Class Mammalia

Pinnipeds: Seals

True Seals

Cetaceans: Whales & Dolphins

Whale blow.

Odontoceti: Toothed whales

(Saunders Island, Falklands)

Cephalorhynchus commersonii, 'Commerson's Dolphin'.

Mysticeti: Baleen Whales

(Scotia Sea)

Balaenoptera physalus, 'Fin Whale'. Very long whale, with small curved fin set very far back.

Megaptera novaeangliaeHumpback Whale 'hump back' and fin.

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