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the web of life in southern Africa

Puffinus gravis (Great shearwater) 

GrootpylstormvoŽl [Afrikaans]; Grote pijlstormvogel [Dutch]; Puffin majeur [French]; GroŖer sturmtaucher [German]; Pardela-de-bico-preto [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: Procellariidae

Puffinus gravis (Great shearwater) 

Great shearwater, offshore from Cape Town, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Puffinus gravis (Great shearwater)  Puffinus gravis (Great shearwater) 
Great shearwater. [photo Jeff Poklen ©] Great shearwater, offshore from Cape Town, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Breeds at Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island and to a lesser extent the Falkland Islands, after which it disperses across the Atlantic and South-west Indian Oceans, including in southern African waters. Here it is most common off the Western, Northern and Eastern Cape and southern Namibia, while more scarce off northern Namibia and KwaZulu-Natal.

Predators and parasites

It has been recorded as prey of Catharacta antarctica (Subantarctic skua) at its breeding colonies.

Movements and migrations

Trans-equatorial migrant, as virtually its entire population stays in southern African waters from April-May before migrating to the North-west Atlantic Ocean from late May to early August, at which point it heads south to the South Atlantic Ocean (including southern African waters). It stays from about August-November before returning to its breeding colonies.


Mainly eats fish and plankton, doing most of its foraging by grabbing prey from the water surface or plunge-diving. It often follows dolphins, toothed whales and other aquatic predators, catching prey that they drive to the water surface. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • fish
    • Lampanyctodes hectoris (lanternfish)
    • Maurolicus muelleri (Lightfish)
    • Engraulis encrasicolus (Anchovies)
  • macrozooplankton
    • Squilla armata (mantis shrimps)
  • trawler offal


Not threatened, although occasionally killed on longlines and by humans at its breeding colonies.


  • 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.