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Glaucous Gull

One of the largest gulls in the world, and the most opportunistic!

What you need to know about the Glaucous Gull

Our Expert Says… "Ever the opportunist, I've witnessed glaucous gulls hanging around beneath cliffs where they know guillemot chicks are about to throw themselves down as they leave the nests for the first time. If any don't make it to safety, glaucous gulls will come along and simply swallow them down whole!"

Amongst gulls, Glaucous gulls have the second largest wingspan in the World, but they are probably the heaviest. They breed around the Arctic regions during summer, and then migrate further south to over-winter.

Their upperparts are pale gray in color, underparts are white, and they have no black wingtips. They have a thick yellow bill with a red spot. The largest specimens can weigh almost 3kg (6lb), grow to 75cm (30”) in length, and have a wingspan up to 1.8m (70”) across.

Very powerful birds, glaucous gulls are opportunistic scavengers and predators. They have been known to eat fish, shellfish, carrion, small mammals, the eggs and chicks of other species, as well as berries and seeds. Some birds will even take down an adult kittiwake and they can often be found hanging around Polar Bear kills.

Glaucous gulls can be seen nesting in colonies, but also singly. They make a lined nest, either on the ground or on suitable cliffs.

Glaucous Gull: Pictures & Videos

Glaucous Gull

Spots where the Glaucous Gull can be observed

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)
Exploring the pack ice

The highlight of many Svalbard cruises is to explore the pack ice, and the best conditions occur when there is an obvious edge to pack ice to sail past, or calm seas where some ships go into the loose pack ice.

It is a unique and unforgettable experience to explore the pack ice ‘at the top of the World’. Seabirds feed along the edge, that can also be good for Harp Seals, and whales. The highlight is to spot a bear. Sometimes they are at a distance, sometimes a few hundred metres away, sometimes they come right up to the ship. What is crucial is to bring binoculars to enjoy and observe the Polar Bear in the heart of their realm, the pack ice, whatever the distance.

Sometimes a bear is seen quickly, sometimes it takes a few hours, sometimes it takes most of the day. Other times two days can be spent exploring the pack without seeing a bear. It is important to patient, enjoy the whole experience, with a bear sighting being the icing on … the pack ice! Conditions can change quickly. Mists often come in to reduce visibility. Currents can spread out the ice into widely scattered pack, making bear sightings less likely. Strong winds and a swell can mean keeping further away from the pack ice edge.   In the early season the whole northern coast is in the grip of the pack, plus fast ice in the deeper parts of the fjords on the western side. Ships explore the ice edge to the NW of Spitsbergen at this time, with more options as the ice retreats north. As the pack ice retreats north it gradually ‘unzips’ from west to east, clearing the coast of northern Spitsbergen first, then the northern end of Hinlopenstretet, (enabling circumnavigations of Spitsbergen, exactly when varying from season to season), then the northern coast of Nordaustlandet and Sjuøyane.

Some years the ice edge can end up a long way to the north, enabling a circumnavigation of the whole archipelago, even to reach remote Kvitøya. Other years, pack ice remains along the northern coast of Nordaustlandet, caught up among the offshore islands. This prevents a circumnavigation of the archipelago, but the areas of drifting pack ice around and places like Lagøya and Sjuøyane can be superb for ship cruising and even Zodiac cruise amongst the pack.

Our trips to spot the Glaucous Gull

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