Petrels and Albatrosses in Kaikoura, NZ

I took a tour called the Albatross Encounter in Kaikoura, New Zealand. In the open ocean, many professional ship followers gathered around the boat. The tour organizer tossed a bag of net containing sea foods (mostly looked like squids) in the water. Then all these wonderful, magnificently giant pelagic birds were fumbling, quarreling, and devouring the free snack right in front of my eyes. It was an unforgettable experience that watching the pelagic birds in such a near proximity. Those birds I would never encounter closely unless I work as a fisherman in the open ocean.

Northern Giant Petrel [Macronectes halli]

The most impressive bird was the giant petrel who showed the perfect gliding skill. They followed the boat again and again, most of the time, they easily overtook the boat speed. As if they were playing the game, catch me if you can!

Procellariiformes, Northern giant petrel
Body length 80-95 cm; Wingspan 150-210 cm

The character of the giant petrel was funny, especially when they were fighting over the snack. They constantly showed off between the peers, i.e., between the same species; but did not charge at the wandering albatrosses, the bigger brothers in the neighborhood. Neither they intimidated the much smaller cousin, Cape Petrels.

Procellariiformes, Northern giant petrel
They are monogamous and form long-term pair-bonds. A pair lays one egg.

An interesting fact I read about them is that their appetite is different between males and females. Males are observed to behave more like scavengers, eating the carcasses of seals, penguins, whales, other petrels, albatross chicks, or anything available, whereas females prefer to catch something on the sea. Hence, the food items delivered to their chicks are different depending on the parent’s sex. Time to time I saw photos of a bird’s head covered with fresh blood, well, the bird was the giant petrel!

Procellariiformes, Northern giant petrel
Procellariiformes, Northern giant petrel
I created a video, mostly focusing on the giant petrels.

Cape Petrel [Daption capense]

There were other petrel species much smaller than the Giant Petrel, including cape petrel and white-chinned petrel. The cape petrels manifested active and bold nature, they were at the front line in the battle for the free food. They did not care the fact that the bigger competitors had giant wings, massive bills, and aggressive calls. They were also constantly harassing other peers of their own like the ginat petrels did each other.

Procellariiformes, cape petrel
Body length 38-40 cm; Wingspan 81-91 cm
They are monogamous and form long-term pair-bonds. A pair lays one egg.
Procellariiformes, cape petrel
Main food item is krill but they also eat fish, sea insects, offal, or carcasses.
I created a video, mostly focusing on the cape petrels.

White-Chinned Petrel [Procellaria aequinoctialis]

This species is classified as a vulnerable species. That day, I saw only one individual. He was late for the sea party and just watching the group at the far side.

As the name indicates, there is a white spot at the chin area.
Body length 50-58 cm; Wingspan 132-147 cm


Four albatross species visited the boat. Albatrosses are also known to be monogamous and their pair-bonds generally last life-long. Compared with Diomedea spp., Thalassarche spp. were less studied. Thalassarche spp. are also called as Mollymawk or Mallemuck, which originated from Middle Dutch language and meant silly (mal) gull (mok).

  • Wandering Albatross [Diomedea exulans]
  • Southern Royal Albatross [Diomedea epomophora]
  • Salvin’s Albatross [Thalassarche salvini]
  • Shy-type Albatrosses [Thalassarche cauta/steadi]

The most aggressive and curious albatross was the wandering albatross. They were always at the nearest to the boat and gave the pressing look.

Procellariiformes, wandering albatross
Wandering Albatross: Body length 107-135 cm; Wingspan 254-351 cm!
Procellariiformes, wandering albatross, northern giant petrel
A Wandering Albatross and Northern Giant Petrels. A Cape Petrel is totally hidden by the Wandering Alabtross wing tip at the upper right corenr. Part of Salvin’s Albatross body is shown in the left side. Compare the size differences!
Procellariiformes, wandering albatross
Wandering Albatross in flight mode.
Procellariiformes, Southern Royal Albatross
Southern Royal Albatross, they have black lining in the maxilla.
Body length 107-122 cm; Wingspan 290-351 cm
Procellariiformes, southern royal albatross
Southern Royal Albatross, a pair’s intimate moment.
salvin's albatross, Procellariiformes
Salvin’s Albatross, the most serious-looking albatross.
Body length 90-100 cm; Wingspan 240-270 cm
Shy Albatross [Thalassarche cauta] and White-headed Albatross [Thalassarche steadi] are extremely difficult to be differentiated each other based on the phenotypes and they used to be classified as sub-species.
Body length 90-100 cm; Wingspan 210-260 cm

I created a video, mostly focusing on the albatrosses.

More Photos…

I uploaded more photos of these species on my photography website, under the Order name Procellariiformes.


BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Procellaria aequinoctialis. Downloaded from on 07/02/2020.

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & Kirwan, G. (eds.) (2020). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 07/02/2020).

“Mallemuck.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed on 07/02/2020.

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