A protected sanctuary where wandering albatross raise their young
Information about Prion Island
Prion Island, like many places in the Antarctic, was named after what was first seen there. In this case, during an expedition of 1912, the island was named because the naturalist Robert Cushman Murphy noted the large numbers of prions he found here.
The prion is a small petrel also sometimes known as a whalebird, and they get their unusual name because of their saw-tooth bill - the word prion in greek means “saw”.
Prion Island sits in the 9-mile-wide Bay of Isles off the northern coast of South Georgia. It is only 1.5 miles in length but it has been designated a Specially Protected Area in its entirety. Because it has always been rat-free, birds can raise their young here without fear of their nests being raided by non-native scavengers. Because of the need to protect the wildlife, there are strict restrictions on visitor numbers, and only 50 people per day are allowed ashore during the season when Prion Island is open to visitors, so guests are often split between going ashore, doing a really good Zodiac cruise, and sometimes with being onboard ship. You’ll also find that your naturalist guides will ensure that no one is carrying anything on to the island that could harbor an invasive species.
To protect the native flora and to avoid damage to petrel and prion burrows, the South Georgia authorities have built a boardwalk, and you will be required to stay on it at all times during your visit. Don’t worry, though, as the animals seem to have decided that they enjoy using it too and nest and feed right up to its edge, so you’ll have plenty of close encounters!
Another important species that breeds here is the wandering albatross. Indeed, Prion Island is such an important breeding center for them that the whole island is closed to visitors between 20th November and 7th January each year to allow them to pair off without disturbance. This time also coincides with the breeding season for Antarctic fur seals who also benefit from the seclusion.
Other species you can find on Prion Island include South Georgia Pipits and South Georgia Pintails, snowy sheathbills, skuas, Antarctic terns, and gentoo penguins.
Interesting facts about Prion Island
This is the place to go ashore in South Georgia to visit a Wandering Albatross since other locations where they breed are off limits, and for part of the season you are unable to land at Prion Island. The Wandering Albatross may be the highlight but there is a lot of other wildlife to see, including giant petrels, White-chinned Petrels, Light-mantled Albatross, and Gentoo Penguins and Southern Elephant Seals at the landing.
A boardwalk goes up to the observation area, just watch out fur seals also using the board walk later in the season. They are often females going up and down to their pups, that may do some mock charges. Strive from making a noise as they come along, and just step aside and make some space for them to go past. And also check if any are coming up behind you. Staff should also be around to assist.
The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any bird - adults average 10ft, with some reaching almost 12 feet! These creatures are as graceful in the air as they are awkward on the ground. Working out how to use 10ft of wings is an impressive feat of learning for the fledging chicks! These birds are currently listed as being vulnerable, hence the lengths taken here at Prion Island to protect their habitat and avoid disturbance during the key months of their breeding season.
It take a full year to breed, so they can only breed every other year, and around November you can have pairs just starting to nest and large chicks, that have over wintered, about to fledge.