Cape Washington

Country/territory: Antarctica

IBA criteria met: A4ii, A4iii (2015)
For more information about IBA criteria, please click here

Area: 28,584 ha

Site description (2015 baseline)

Cape Washington is situated on the lower slopes of Mount Melbourne, Victoria Land, in northern Terra Nova Bay, Ross Sea. The IBA qualifies on the basis of the Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) and South Polar Skua (Catharacta maccormicki) colonies that breed near Cape Washington, and coincides with the boundary of ASPA No. 173: Cape Washington & Silverfish Bay. The ASPA was designated in 2013 for its outstanding ecological and scientific values, particularly in recognition of the large Emperor Penguin colony present.

The nearest permanent stations are Jang Bogo (KOR, year-round), Mario Zucchelli (ITA, summer-only) and Gondwana (DEU, summer occasional use), located ~30 km to the west in the vicinity of Gerlache Inlet.

Key biodiversity

The Emperor Penguin colony population ranges from 13 000 – 25 000 breeding pairs (Barber-Meyer et al. 2007, 2008), and ~17 000 pairs were present in 2010 (G. Kooyman pers. comm. 2012). The colony is one of the largest known, and in some years exceeds the size of the Coulman Island colony IBA to become the largest colony in the Ross Sea. The colony typically breeds on sea ice up to 0.5 km west of Cape Washington, although may break into a number of sub-groups and move several km from this site throughout the breeding season.

Around 50 pairs of South Polar Skua breed on ice free slopes above Cape Washington, and Snow Petrels (Pagodroma nivea) have been observed breeding in coastal cliffs northeast of the cape (Greenfield & Smellie 1992). South Polar Skuas were also observed breeding at Oscar Point (~20 pairs) and on Markham Island (~21 pairs) in 1982 (Ainley et al. 1986).

Adélie Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) are regularly observed near the emperor colony, although do not breed at the site. Other visiting birds observed in the area include Wilson's Storm-petrels (Oceanites oceanicus) and Southern Giant Petrels (Macronectes giganteus) (Kooyman et al. 1990).

Non-bird biodiversity: Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) forage in the vicinity and Minke Whales (Balaenoptera bonaerensis), other Balaenoptera species and Arnoux's Beaked Whale (Berardius arnuxii) have been observed nearby.

Non-bird biodiversity: Weddell (Leptonychotes weddellii), Leopard (Hydrurga leptonyx) and Crabeater (Lobodon carcinophagus) seals are common in the region. The western part of the area east of the Campbell Glacier Tongue, Silverfish Bay, is a nursery ground for Antarctic Silverfish (Pleuragramma antarcticum).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Cape Washington. Downloaded from on 04/12/2023.