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the web of life in southern Africa

Puffinus griseus (Sooty shearwater) 

Malbaatjie [Afrikaans]; Grauwe pijlstormvogel [Dutch]; Puffin fuligineux [French]; Dunkler sturmtaucher [German]; Pardela-preta [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 griseus (Sooty shearwater)  Puffinus griseus (Sooty shearwater) 

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

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

Distribution and habitat

Breeds on islands off southern South America, south-eastern Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand as well as on the Falklands and Tristan da Cunha. In the non-breeding season it disperses across the Pacific, Atlantic and Southern Oceans down to about 65 South, including southern African waters. Here it is abundant off the western and southern coasts from central Namibia to the Western and Eastern Cape, in fact it is the most common winter seabird in this area. It is less common further out to sea, while completely absent east of Mozambique.

Movements and migrations

The breeding season is from September-April, after which it migrates to the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans. Juveniles and non-breeding adults are present year-round in southern African waters, although the latter are thought to subsequently migrate north.


It mainly eats small fish, supplemented with crustaceans, crab larvae, tunicates and trawler discards, doing most of it foraging by grabbing prey from the water surface and plunge-diving up to a depth of about 67 metres. In order to do this it dives in a zig-zag pattern, which reduces bouyancy by expelling air trapped in its feathers. It also associates with Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus), tunas (Thunnus), Common dolphins (Delphinus deplhis), Dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) and Bryde's whales (Balaenoptera edeni), catching prey that they drive to they drive to the surface. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • fish
    • Engraulis encrasicolus (Anchovies)
    • Maurolicus muelleri (Lightfish)
    • Lampanyctodes hectoris (lanternfish)
  • crustaceans
    • Squilla armata (mantis shrimps)
    • Euphausia lucens (euphausiids)
    • crab larvae
    • amphipods
  • pelagic turnicates (Thaliacea)
  • trawler discards


Not threatened, with a world population of approximately 20 million individuals, although its population is decreasing rapidly. This thought to be caused by drift net fishery (which killed about 350 000 birds annually in the North Pacific in the 1980s), coupled with human exploitation and introduced predators 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.