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HomeSpits­ber­gen infor­ma­ti­onWild­life → Nort­hern ful­mar

Northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)

The view of a Nort­hern ful­mar that gli­des ele­gant­ly over brea­king waves, is an impres­si­ve and beau­ti­ful image of the adap­t­ati­on of wild­life to a har­sh envi­ron­ment.

Northern fulmar

Flies with stiff wings: The Nort­hern ful­mar

Descrip­ti­on: Length 45-53 cm, 650-1,000 g in weight. The stream­li­ned body is dark grey without any signi­fi­cant con­trast, unli­ke gulls. The­re are dif­fe­rent colour varia­ti­ons (morphs) of the ful­mar; the dark-grey one is com­mon in Spits­ber­gen, and the ligh­ter one is com­mon fur­ther south, for examp­le in Ice­land. In flight they are easi­ly reco­gnis­ed by their stiff wings and their very ele­gant, per­fect­ly con­trol­led long gli­des, often just abo­ve the crests of waves; a beha­viour not shown by gulls. The small tube on top of the beak makes them unmistaka­ble from short ran­ge.

Dis­tri­bu­ti­on / Migra­ti­ons: Nort­hern ful­mars have a wide ran­ge from New­found­land and nort­hern Fran­ce, up to Spits­ber­gen whe­re they breed almost ever­y­whe­re on steep cliffs; they are not bree­ding on the remo­te, high arc­tic islands in the far nor­the­ast. Out­side the bree­ding sea­son, they are tru­ly pela­gic, which means that they will stay on the high seas at all times and not come to land. They spend most of the year around Spits­ber­gen except for the dar­kest mon­ths, when they move a litt­le bit south towards the open Atlan­tic. The main bree­ding are­as in Sval­bard are on the west coast of Spits­ber­gen and Bjørnøya.

Bio­lo­gy: Nort­hern ful­mars breed in loo­se colo­nies on steep cliffs. They live off squid, small fish and plank­ton and find their prey clo­se to the sur­face on the open sea and in drift ice, covering huge distan­ces on their search for food.

Belon­ging to the tube­n­o­ses, they are clo­se­ly rela­ted to the Alba­tros­ses of the sou­thern hemi­s­phe­re and, just like the­se, they have a slow repro­duc­tion rate but a high life expec­tancy. They can reach ages of more than 60 years. In late May, they lay a sin­gle egg into a very simp­le nest or even direct­ly on rocks. Both par­ents sit for about 50 days. Adults and chick can defend the nest effec­tively by spit­ting very smel­ly and sti­cky oil, and they can aim qui­te well.

Northern fulmar

Nort­hern ful­mars feed from the water sur­face – unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly also a lot plastic…

Mis­cel­la­ne­ous: Nort­hern ful­mars are not rela­ted to gulls but belong to the tube­n­o­ses, most of which live in the sou­thern hemi­s­phe­re. The size of the popu­la­ti­on in Sval­bard is not known, but they are among the most com­mon­ly seen birds in the area. They are always around ships, often in lar­ge num­bers.

Nevertheless, the Nort­hern ful­mar is in dan­ger: 97% of all indi­vi­du­als have plastic was­te in their sto­mach (2012)! Sin­ce the sto­mach is fil­led with plastic, they no lon­ger feel hungry and die of star­va­ti­on with full tum­my. Plastic parts can also cau­se serious inju­ries in the inner organs of the bird. The Nort­hern ful­mar has beco­me a sad indi­ca­tor of the pol­lu­ti­on of the North Sea and the Atlan­tic during the last few years.

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last modification: 2017-11-15 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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