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Seabird Species

Kelp Gull (Larus Dominicanus Dominicanus)

Les Underhill and John Cooper
Animal Demography Unit

  Kelp Gulls
Photo Les Underhill
Kelp Gulls at Cave Bay on Prince Edward Island, December 2001

The nominate race of the Kelp Gull is widely distributed in the southern hemisphere, but the range excludes Africa, where it is an extremely rare vagrant. It occurs on the Antarctic Peninsula, along the west coast of South America as far north as Peru, close to the equator, along the east coast of South America as far north as about Sao Paulo in southern Brazil, along the western, southern and eastern coasts of Australia, in New Zealand, and at subantarctic islands, including Marion Island and Prince Edward Island, the two South African islands in the Southern Ocean. Although the Kelp Gull is found at coastal localities, it ventures far inland in some parts of its range. For example, in New Zealand it occurs on lakes in the mountains and is widespread as a scavenger in farmland; the population in this country is estimated at over one million birds. In Argentina, it occurs at large lakes in the Andes.

  Kelp Gull
Photo Les Underhill
The adult dominicanus Kelp Gull has a yellow eye (in contrast with the brown eye of vetula)

The taxon of "Kelp Gull" which occurs along southern African coastline was, until recently, treated as the subspecies Larus dominicanus vetula. This taxon has now been recognized as a good species with scientific names Larus vetula. The proposed English name is Cape Gull. The iris of dominicanus is pale grey or pale yellow, whereas vetula has a dark brown iris. The taxon vetula is on average larger than dominicanus, and vetula also has a more domed skull.

The first Australian records of Kelp Gulls were made in 1943. Breeding was first recorded in 1958. It has rapidly expanded its range and increased in abundance.

The are two records of the nominate Kelp Gull on the continent of Africa. The first was made on 23 October 1982, when a dying bird was found near Yzerfontein, Western Cape. The second record, made on 26 October 1985, was also made near Yzerfontein. These birds were found during the monthly patrols for beached seabirds coordinated since 1978 by Dr Graham Avery of the South African Museum, Cape Town. Both birds were preserved as osteological specimens, and are in the collection of the South African Museum, Cape Town. The identification as belonging to the nominate race dominicanus was made on the basis of the eye colouration of the dying bird, and of skull shape, as described above.

Kelp Gull flock
Photo Les Underhill
There are interesting patterns on some of the juvenile Kelp Gulls