Survey of marine birds and mammals of the South Sandwich Islands
During January and February 1997, two separate surveys of the birds and seals of the South Sandwich Islands archipelago were made, with further data obtained from the northern islands during February 1998. Together, these surveys provide the most recent and accurate estimates of breeding populations of most species, their distributions, and their habitat. Observations were made (1) from a small vessel operating close inshore, which surveyed approximately 92% of the archipelago's coastline, in addition to making shore counts at selected locations; (2) during a six-week shorebased field camp on Candlemas Island; and (3) opportunistically during helicopter-supported landings and airborne operations over all islands in the archipelago. The surveys recorded 16 species of breeding birds, including the first confirmation of breeding by black-bellied storm petrels (Fregetta tropica) and Antarctic terns (Sterna vittata), the second record of incubating king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus), and the location of many previously unrecorded seabird breeding sites. The population of chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica), at approximately 1.5 x 10 pairs is considerably less than the estimate of 5 x 10 pairs currently in use, and represents about 30% of the world population. Populations of chinstrap penguins, Antarctic fulmars (Fulmarus glacialoides), cape petrels (Daption capense), and snow petrels (Pagodroma nivea) in the South Sandwich Islands are of global significance. Five species of seals were recorded. At the time of the surveys, only Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) were confirmed to be breeding, and several new breeding sites were located. Pup numbers showed a small increase compared with the few earlier records, but the population has not undergone the large increases seen on South Georgia and at sites in the maritime Antarctic. The other four species recorded are considered highly likely to breed either within the archipelago or amongst pack ice that seasonally surrounds the islands.
Authors: Convey, P. ORCID record for P. Convey, Morton, A., Poncet, J.