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the web of life in southern Africa

Diomedea exulans (Wandering albatross) 

Grootalbatros [Afrikaans]; Grootmalmok [Afrikaans]; Grote albatros, Reuzenalbatros [Dutch]; Albatros hurleur [French]; Wanderalbatroß [German]; Albatroz-viageiro [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Diomedeidae

Diomedea exulans (Wandering albatross) 
Wandering albatross, offshore from Cape Town, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]
Diomedea exulans (Wandering albatross)  Diomedea exulans (Wandering albatross) 
Wandering albatross (3rd or 4th cycle). [photo Jeff Poklen ©] Wandering albatross, 4th or 5th cycle. [photo Jeff Poklen ©]

Distribution and habitat

Breeds on sub-Antarctic islands, including South Georgia, Prince Edward, Crozet, Kerguelen, Macquarie and occasionally Heard Island. In the non-breeding season it disperses across the southern oceans, occuring across much of southern African waters excluding the area east of Mozambique, while most common below 30° South. It is a rare vagrant further north, as it has occasionally been recorded further north to the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans.

Movements and migrations

Present year-round off southern Africa, although it is by far the most common in Winter. After breeding it heads north, typically covering 6000-8000 km in just 6-10 days at an average speed of 35-38 km/hr.


It mainly scavenges dead food on the surface of the sea, using its massive wingspan of up to 3.7m to soar across the oceans, flying in loops to cover large areas or alternatively landing in the water regularly and searching more intently (usually in areas where food is more abundant). It is primarily a diurnal feeder, occasionally hunting at night by using a sit-and-wait technique, sitting on water and grabbing prey on the water surface. The following food items have been recorded in its diet at its breeding colonies - the percentages indicate the approximate proportion of that food item in its diet.

  • squid (40-77%)
    • Kondakovia longimana
  • fish (15-42%)
  • other (<1%)


Vulnerable, with a population of of approximately 9000 breeding pairs, largely due to mortalities on longlines of fishing vessels. Thankfully, changes in fishing practices have improved the situation considerably, although its slow reproductive rate leaves it at risk to further disruptions.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.