Mollymawks are a group of seabirds that belong to the albatross family, Diomedeidae. They are primarily found in the Southern Ocean, which encircles Antarctica and are known for their graceful flight and impressive wingspans. Mollymawks are medium to large-sized birds with distinctive features that set them apart from other seabirds. Here is a detailed overview of Mollymawks of the Southern Ocean:
- Mollymawks belong to the family Diomedeidae, which is commonly referred to as the albatross family.
- The term “mollymawk” is often used to describe several species within this family that are smaller than the larger wandering albatrosses.
- Mollymawks are primarily found in the Southern Ocean, which encompasses the waters surrounding Antarctica.
- They are known to breed on various subantarctic islands and remote coastal areas.
- Mollymawks typically have a large wingspan, ranging from 2 to 2.5 meters (6.5 to 8.2 feet), which allows them to cover vast distances in search of food.
- They have long, narrow wings and are built for efficient gliding flight.
- These birds are generally white with dark markings on their wings and back.
- They have a hooked bill adapted for capturing prey from the ocean’s surface.
- Mollymawks are skilled aerial foragers and spend much of their lives in flight.
- They are known for their ability to travel long distances without flapping their wings, using dynamic soaring and gliding techniques to conserve energy.
- These birds are opportunistic feeders and prey on fish, squid, and other marine organisms.
- They often follow ships and fishing vessels, taking advantage of discarded scraps.
- Several species of mollymawks exist in the Southern Ocean, including the Indian and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, Grey-headed Albatross, Black-browed Mollymawk, Campbell Albatross and Salvin’s Albatross
- Each species has unique plumage and physical characteristics, distinguishing them from experienced birdwatchers and researchers.
Breeding and Reproduction:
- Mollymawks typically breed in colonies on remote islands and coastal cliffs.
- They are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds with their mates.
- These birds have relatively low reproductive rates, with many species producing only one egg per breeding season.
- Both parents take turns incubating the egg and caring for the chick.
- Some species of mollymawks are threatened or endangered due to habitat destruction, introduced predators on breeding islands, and bycatch in fisheries.
- Conservation efforts, including monitoring breeding colonies and implementing protective measures, are crucial to their survival.
In summary, Mollymawks of the Southern Ocean are a group of albatross species characterized by their impressive wingspans, efficient gliding flight, and their role as top predators in the Southern Ocean ecosystem. While adapting to life on the open ocean, they face conservation challenges that require ongoing efforts to protect their populations and habitats.
As we steamed out of Cape Town aboard the MSC Orchestra, the water became cooler, and we entered the deeper Plankton-rich waters of the Southern Ocean. We were excited as we started encountering more pelagic birds with an increase in the variety of species. Observing our first Wandering albatross with its astonishing dynamic soaring, enabling the largest flying bird in the world with a wingspan of 3,6M to travel hundreds of kilometres without a single flap of its wings.
Exploring the ship on the inside was highly entertaining, especially when every passage, lift foyer, and stairway looked precisely the same. Like most first-timers, getting lost inside the ship was a common pastime for at least the first three days. Unlike most cruisers, we also enjoyed exploring the outer rim of the ship’s passages and very rarely even saw the beautiful pool deck.
We came prepared, as we spent many hours training hard before the cruise to be fit and strong for the fun awaiting us. Taking the stairs rather than using the lifts also helped, especially when you offer three fabulous meals daily and a buffet open 24/7.
After three days of dedicated bird watching, we finally arrived at Prince Edward and Marion Island. “Albatross Thursday” and what a spectacle. Thousands of birds and penguins held us in awe as we braved the ferocious wind from the approaching storm.
Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side, and we were met by a dense cloud shrouding Marion Island. Low clouds and mist covered Prince Edward Island. Luckily, this Island was visible.
With the storm just off Marion, the wind intensified, and we were buffeted by 100 km winds and heavy seas. Captain Pinto of the MSC Orchestra cancelled our plan to sail past the two islands and a further 100km south. They were expecting 10m swells and severe winds. Unfortunately, we had to turn back and head for home ahead of the impending storm.
For many, this was a massive disappointment as we never got to see Marion Island, nor did we get to spend time in the proximity of the Island enjoying the prolific birdlife.
Communicating The Main Threat That Seabirds Face
It was the perfect setting to highlight the plight of our seabirds on the Prince Edward Islands, threatened by the House Mouse (Mus musculus). Ongoing research and a comprehensive feasibility study on the eradication process were presented by Anton Wolfaardt through a series of lectures on various conservation programs on Marion Island. Mouse Free Marion would create awareness and solicit funding to proceed with the project of baiting the entire Island over a calculated period of two weeks to eradicate these mice and save our seabirds.
A Worthy Cause
Birdlife South Africa can be proud of its achievements – it was a professional package and a successful awareness campaign for the Mouse Free Marion Project. In addition, they managed to raise more than R3 million for the MFM Project. We wish them all the best of success when they start the eradication process on Marion in 2024.
As we all said goodbye and travelled homeward bound, we knew we had witnessed Something special on this epic voyage. We eagerly await the next Flock, which will take us to the Mozambique Channel in 2023, searching for Tropical Birds and Boobies. Frankly, we can’t wait and have already started counting the days.
We would like to thank our sponsors and some individuals who made this voyage so special.
- MBE Peter Harrison: Seabirds (The New Identification Guide) Apex Expeditions
- Jonathan Rossouw: Apex Expeditions
- Mouse Free Marion Project: Dr Anton Wolfaardt
- Mike Ormerod: Orms\Canon
- Brian Murphy: Cape Union Mart
- Leica Sport Optics
- Lynx Edicions
- Faansie Peacock Birding App Firefinch
- Heather Wagner (Little Carthage River Lodge)
Photographic equipment used on the Flock to Marion:
Canon R5 with RF 100-500 Canon Lens
Canon 1DX with 16-35 Canon EF lens
Apple I Phone 13 pro
Samsung Note 10
DJI Mavic Air S2
Photo: Otto Whitehead
Photo: Otto Whitehead
Prince Edward Island and Marion Island are two remote, subantarctic islands in the Southern Ocean, south of South Africa. These islands are collectively known as the Prince Edward Islands and are part of the Southern Ocean Islands Subregion. Here’s an overview of these islands:
- Prince Edward Island (46°38’S, 37°57’E) and Marion Island (46°54’S, 37°45’E) are situated in the southern Indian Ocean, approximately 1,900 kilometres (1,180 miles) south-southeast of Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Size and Geography:
- Prince Edward Island is the smaller of the two, with an area of about 45 square kilometres (17 square miles), while Marion Island is larger, covering approximately 290 square kilometres (112 square miles).
- Both islands are volcanic, with rugged terrains, rocky shores, and steep cliffs. They have relatively cool and wet climates characterized by frequent rain, strong winds, and low temperatures.
Wildlife and Biodiversity:
- The Prince Edward Islands are known for their rich and diverse wildlife. They are home to various seabird species, including albatrosses, penguins, petrels, and cormorants.
- Marion Island hosts the world’s largest breeding colony of the wandering albatross, an iconic seabird species with an impressive wingspan.
- Several species of seals, such as the subantarctic fur seal and the southern elephant seal, can also be found on these islands.
- Unique flora, including mosses, lichens, and grasses, can be found in the subantarctic vegetation zones.
- Prince Edward Island and Marion Island have been the focus of scientific research for many decades. Researchers study the islands’ ecosystems, climate, and biodiversity.
- The research stations on these islands allow scientists to study a wide range of topics, including biology, meteorology, and geology.
- The Prince Edward Islands are protected as nature reserves, and access to these islands is restricted to authorized personnel, primarily for research and conservation purposes.
- Conservation efforts are in place to preserve the fragile ecosystems and mitigate the impact of introduced species, such as rats and cats, which have harmed native wildlife.
- The human presence on the Prince Edward Islands is limited to research stations, such as the South African National Antarctic Program’s (SANAP) research station on Marion Island. These stations are typically staffed by scientists and support personnel.
Prince Edward Islands, consisting of Prince Edward Island and Marion Island, are remote and ecologically significant subantarctic islands known for their diverse wildlife and unique ecosystems. They play a vital role in scientific research and conservation efforts, contributing to our understanding of the Southern Ocean environment.
Bird Guides on the Flock to Marion 2022 (In no order of preference)
- Prof. Peter Ryan (Such a dry sense of humour, very dry. Seen on the decks every day, bare feet or in his slops). You can get his book Seabirds of Southern Africa here.
- Trevor Hardaker (Disappointed that we missed his onboard lecture on Seabird Photography) (Sasol Birding Map of Southern Africa & Zest For Birds Pelagic Trips)
- Faansie Peacock (We all used Faansie’s new Birding App FireFinch on the #Flock it was and still is so convenient) (The Birds of Southern Africa: The Complete Photographic Guide: with app and calls: with app and calls)
- Vincent Ward (A wealth of information and always on the lookout for Something new). Join Vincent at Cape Town Pelagics.
- Daniel Danckwerts ( Keen eyes and always onto Something and a great loud voice to get the message across) Rockjumpers
- Cliff Dorse (Very vigilant and always calling the birds, such a standout Guide) Zest For Birds
- Dominique Paul Rollinson (Ian Sinclair was right when he said, “Make sure you standing near Dom” Birding Encounters.
- Gary Allport (Found the Long Tailed Jager for us )
- Prof. Ken Findlay (We were constantly updated on all the Cetaceans.)
- Dalton Gibbs
- Mayur Prag
- Michael Mills
- Vanessa Stephen
- Dylan Vasapolli (The Italian, birding right to the end, he was calling House Crows in the Durban Harbour) Birding Encounters
- Niall Perrins ( Did not Join due to COVID 19) (Sasol Birds of Southern Africa)
- Jordan Ralph
- John Kinghorn
- Toni Geddes
- Vernon Head
- Justin Nicolau ( Did not Join due to COVID 19)
- Adam Riley ( Put the whole vessel on RED ALERT with his call on the Tristan Albatross)
- Kieth Valentine
- David Hoddinott
- Heinz Ortman
- Greg de Klerk
- Andre Bernon
- Julian Parsons
- Riaan Botha
- Tim Carr ( great work ethic and very keen eyes on the water)
- Ian Pletzer ( nice to see this Plettenberg local again, worked in tandem with Tim Carr)
- Garret Skead ( always a pleasure to stand next to this top cape town Birder)
- Rob Leslie
- Tristan Spurway (Thanks for Sharing your images of the Flying Squid and Devil Ray)
- Bruce Dyer (Has been down to the Southern Ocean sooooo many times, and he has many stories to share; he is always great company)
In Support of the MOUSE FREE MARION Project, please donate to this critically important cause. Hopefully, the project will commence in 2024.