Seal Islands

Country/territory: Antarctica

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

Area: 451 ha

Protection status:

Site description

Seal Islands lie 7 km north of Elephant Island and comprise a group of small, rocky islets extending over an area ~5 km across. The IBA qualifies on the basis of the concentration of seabirds present (in particular Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica)) and includes the entire Seal Islands group, including all land areas, offshore rocks and the intervening marine area.

The Seal Island coastline is dominated by steep cliffs, except for a sandy beach on the western shore and several small coves. Seal Island (elevation 125 m) is composed of sedimentary rocks susceptible to erosion. Other islands in the group are rocky with precipitous cliffs and few beaches, and ice-cover is seasonal (CEMP Site No. 1 Management Plan, 2001).

Key biodiversity

Eight breeding species of bird have been recorded on Seal Islands. Approximately 20 000 pairs of Chinstrap Penguin were estimated in over 60 subcolonies across the island group in 1988/89 (J.L. Bengtson pers. comm., cited in Woehler 1993). Approximately 350 pairs of Macaroni Penguin ( Eudyptes chrysolophus ) were recorded in five colonies on Seal Island (CEMP Site No. 1 Management Plan, 2004). Small numbers of Southern Giant Petrel ( Macronectes giganteus ) and Imperial Shag ( Phalacrocorax [ atriceps ] bransfieldensis ) breed, estimated at 25 pairs and 40 pairs respectively in 1971 (Bruce & Furse 1973). Cape Petrels ( Daption capense ) nest on cliffs and Wilson's Storm-petrel ( Oceanites oceanicus ) nest in burrows in talus slopes. Snowy Sheathbill ( Chionis albus ) and Kelp Gull ( Larus dominicanus ) also breed on the islands (CEMP Site No. 1 Management Plan, 2004). Non-breeding birds include the Brown Skua ( Catharacta antarctica ), Adélie Penguin ( Pygoscelis adeliae ), Gentoo Penguin ( P. papua ), King Penguin ( Aptenodytes patagonicus ) and Rockhopper Penguin ( Eudyptes chrysocome ) (CEMP Site No.1 Management Plan, 2004).

Non-bird biodiversity: Antarctic Fur Seal (Arctocephalus gazella), Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina), Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii), Leopard Seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) and Crabeater Seal (Lobodon carcinophagus) haul out on Seal Islands. Antarctic Fur Seals are the only confirmed breeders, with around 600 pups born each year (CEMP Site No. 1 Management Plan, 2004; M. Goebel, pers. comm. 2004). It is suspected that small numbers of Southern Elephant Seal may also breed on the islands.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Seal Islands. Downloaded from on 21/10/2020.