Arctic Species: Northern Fulmar

Now we’re done with the last ‘large’ family of birds on Spitsbergen, the waders, it’s time to round off this series with some birds that are the only member of their family around the archipelago. We start off with the Northern Fulmar. Where there are many tubenoses to be seen around Antarctica and in the Southern Ocean, on Spitsbergen we can only see the Northern Fulmar.

Northern Fulmar in flight

Just like the much larger albatrosses, the Northern Fulmar is a member of the Tubenose family. When given close views, the name becomes clear as you can see a small, black, ‘tube’ on top of the bill. This tube is the end of their salt excretion organ, which allows them to drink salt seawater. This allows them to spend a large portion of their time at sea. They do have to come ashore to breed, of course, but apart from that, they like to spend their time soaring at sea. For photographers, they are a great species to practice flight shots with, as they often keep on flying behind or around the ship.

Dark (left) and intermediate morph Northern Fulmar

The Northern Fulmar has a dark and a light morph and many varieties in between. Typically the birds in the north (i.e. on Spitsbergen) are darker as further south, but we do see pale morphs in around Spitsbergen as well. Fulmars are opportunistic feeders that primarily feed on small marine animals they catch at or near the surface.

Sometimes they feed on strange things, here three Northern Fulmars feeding of a dead Minke Whale. The large white things you see are its inflated lungs.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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