The Antarctic Big Five: Albatrosses

Other species which is often high on peoples wish list are usually seen just north of Antarctica, in the Drake Passage: the Albatrosses. Especially the large ones, Wandering and Southern Royal Albatrosses, are very impressive with their wingspan of over 3.5 meters. They seem to glide over the waves effortlessly and are entirely at home in strong winds and high waves.

Black-browed and Southern Royal Albatross


During a crossing of the Drake Passage, one can expect 5-6 species of albatross. The Black-browed Albatross is the most common, with the Grey-headed Albatross looking reasonably similar (but having a grey head of course). According to many birdwatchers, the Light-mantled Albatross is the most beautiful one, with its white lines around the eye and over the bill. Finally, there are the large albatrosses, the Wandering and the Southern and Northern Royal Albatross. These three species have roughly the same wingspan and can be difficult to separate at sea, especially both Royals (with the Northern being quite rare in the Drake).

Southern Royal Albatross


As soon as you reach Antarctica, the chance of seeing albatrosses is significantly reduced as these animals really have a strong preference for open ocean, and there are no breeding colonies of albatrosses on the Peninsula.


  • So wonderful to see the albatrosses here, Arjen. They are such magnificent birds, but so very difficult to see unless you are at sea, and even then, they come and go quickly, the boat is rocking, and identification is nearly impossible. I saw a breeding colony of the Waved Alb. on Galapagos once, but other than that it is a fleeting look from boats. Your captures were a treat.


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