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Snow Petrel

Snow Petrel

The beautiful, snow-white traveler that has visited the South Pole

Information about Snow Petrel

Our Expert Says… "When you travel through areas with lots of sea ice you will often see these lovely birds flying around your ship and your Zodiacs. Your guides will usually give a call on the public address system onboard so that everyone has the opportunity to come out on deck and appreciate the amazing site of Snow Petrels in large numbers."

The iconic Snow Petrel was first described by a naturalist sailing with Captain Cook’s expedition of 1777. It’s very distinctive because it is, indeed, snow-white over its entire body except for its black eyes and bill, and pale blue feet.

The snow petrel holds the distinction of being one of only three birds observed flying over the geographic South Pole - the other two species are the Antarctic petrel and the polar skua.

Snow petrels have a wingspan of only 75cm (30”) or so, and their flight involves more fluttering than their larger cousins as they are unable to generate as much lift for gliding. They tend to flock together, and it’s not usual to see groups of snow petrels perched on icebergs!

They have established breeding colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula and on several of the Antarctic islands. Despite the large overall population (thought to be some 4 million strong), snow petrels don’t congregate in huge breeding colonies like some other seabirds. They make nests in rocky crevices or other sheltered spots, and lay their eggs in December.

Like other petrels and fulmars, snow petrels make a waxy stomach oil that they use to feed the chicks, and also to sustain themselves on long overwater flights. They can also projectile vomit this strong-smelling liquid at predators as a defense mechanism! Their main diet consists of small fish, krill, and other crustaceans, as well as carrion if the opportunity presents itself.

There are few predators that adult snow petrels need to be concerned about, but like many other seabirds, their chicks are vulnerable to being killed and eaten by aggressive scavengers like brown skuas.

Pictures of Snow Petrel

Snow Petrel

Highlights where the Snow Petrel can be seen

Paulet Island

Paulet Island is a striking sight. This circular rock is only 1 mile in diameter, yet it has a volcanic cone that rises to over 1100 feet at its center. It’s found about 3 miles from Dundee Island at the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula.

First mapped in 1839, Paulet Island is home to a huge penguin colony. Some 100,000 breeding pairs of Adelie penguins live here, a truly remarkable sight and sound! You will also see other sea birds on your visit, including shags, snow petrels, and kelp gulls.

Another fascinating aspect of Paulet Island is the historic shelter that dates back to 1903. The expedition ship on the Nordenskjöld expedition - the Antarctica (after which the Antarctic Sound is named) - was crushed by the ice pack, and survivors of the wreck reached Paulet built a stone hut to shelter them from the harsh winter conditions. There is also a cairn built on the highest point of the island that they used to attract attention for any rescue. There is also a grave marker for one expedition member who sadly did not survive.

Because Paulet Island is so densely packed with wildlife, visitors will be escorted in small groups by experienced Antarctic guides. This ensures that the breeding birds are disturbed as little as possible and that the shelter site is protected.

Fur seals are often also seen on the shores here. In the peak breeding season, you may find that some of the walking trails around the island are closed due to the sheer numbers of wonderful creatures that choose to raise their young here.

Port Charcot, Booth Island

Port Charcot is a small bay at the north end of Booth Island. Booth Island is a rocky and rugged Y-shaped island off the Kiev Peninsula in Graham Land. It was first mapped in 1904 when the French Antarctic expedition led by Jean-Baptise Charcot over-wintered here.

After building a few rudimentary shelters and the cairn that can still be seen at the top of the hill, the expedition used Port Charcot as its base for exploring the area, that is close to the Lemaire Channel and the division between the NW and the SW peninsula . There is the remains of a stone hut used for astronomical observations and a wooden pillar with a plaque here where you can still make out the names of the first expedition members who wrote them almost 120 years ago.

In the bay where the Français was anchored (but difficult to reach with the ice) the letter 'F' was carved onto the rocks and can still be seen.

The walk to the cairn is delightful, although you’ll be carefully led by guides as wandering off the path can be treacherous, with loose rocks and crevasses. Visitors can also walk to the east where there is a noisy Gentoo penguin colony. Chinstraps and Adelies can also be seen on the beaches here. If you are lucky, you might get all three together!

From the top the views are stunning, especially the view to the SW, towards Pléneau Island Island, overlooking 'the iceberg graveyard'. This iceberg graveyard can be explored on a spectacular Zodiac cruise, either from ships anchored off Port Charcot to the 'NW' of the Lemaire Channel, or from ships anchored off Pléneau Island and Booth Island that had sailed through through the Lemaire Channel. For full details of this Zodiac cruise refer to the details under Pléneau Island.

Our trips to spot the Snow Petrel

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