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Balleny Islands

Comprising three large islands (Young, Buckle, and Sturge) and numerous islets and stacks (including Sabrina, Row, Borradaile, Chinstrap, and Monolith), the Balleny Islands are located 66° 15' to 67° 10'S, 162° 15' to 164° 45'E, which is approximately 150 miles (240 km) off the coast of Victoria Land in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. The archipelago forms a chain that is about a hundred miles (160 km) in length, and straddles the Antarctic Circle. Its highest point is Brown Peak (roughly 6000 feet, 1800 m). Sturge Island is the largest, approximately 20 miles long by 8 miles wide (32 by 13 km). The islands are heavily glaciated, with cliffs of rock or ice and a few gravel beaches, and are volcanic in origin, although no recent seismic activity has been recorded.

The Balleny Islands are the only truly marine or oceanic islands (as opposed to continental islands) other than Scott Island on the side of Antarctica that they are on, making them distinctive from any neighboring areas. Their biological diversity exceeds that of any other site in the Ross Sea region.

In 1966, Sabrina Island, located south-southeast of Buckle Island, was designated a Specially Protected Area (SPA), mostly on account of its large colony of Adélie penguins. An attempt was made in 1999 by New Zealand to extend the SPA to cover the entire archipelago within a sea boundary of 12 nautical miles (22 km). Because of their remote geographical location and the difficulty of making a landing on many of the islands, they have been protected from human activities, but, as a consequence, they are also poorly documented. While a preliminary soil fauna analysis has detected mites, nematodes, and bacteria, a comprehensive study of the islands' vegetation is yet to be conducted.

The islands have at least seven species of breeding bird, four species of seal, and 25 species of echinoderm. Confirmed bird breeders include Adélie and chinstrap penguins, Cape petrels, snow petrels, Antarctic petrels, southern fulmars, and Wilson's storm petrels. In addition, southern giant petrels, prions, sooty shearwaters, Arctic terns, and skuas have been identified here. The colonies of southern fulmars are estimated to number between 10,000 and 20,000 pairs on the northwest coast of Sturge Island, while up to 10,000 pairs of snow petrels have been estimated on the western cliffs. Approximately 6000 southern fulmars have been counted on Row Island.

The largest colony of Adélie penguins is on Sabrina Island, where approximately 3500 pairs were counted in 1984. Chinstraps are found in smaller numbers, the most notable being the three groups on Buckle Island: Cape Cornish (c. 530 pairs), Cape Davis (c. 500 pairs), and Southeast Promontory (c. 320 pairs).

Seals do not breed on the islands, although several species haul out on the islands' beaches. Weddell seals have been recorded on Row and Borradaile islands, while Weddell, crabeater, and southern elephant seals have been observed on Borradaile Island. Leopard seals have been observed cruising in the offshore waters, probably hunting penguins.

Discovery of the islands occurred on 9 February 1839, when John Balleny of the schooner Eliza Scott and Thomas Freeman of the cutter Sabrina saw them after sailing south from New Zealand in search of new sealing lands on behalf of the Enderby Brothers.

Liz Cruwys

See also: Adélie Penguin; Antarctic Petrel; Antarctic Prion; Arctic Tern; Cape Petrels; Chinstrap Penguin; Crabeater Seal; Enderby, Messrs; Leopard Seal; Shearwaters - Short-Tailed and Sooty; Skuas: Overview; Snow Petrel; Southern Elephant Seal; Southern Fulmar; Southern Giant Petrel; Weddell Seal; Wilson's Storm Petrel.

References and Further Reading

Antarctic Treaty XXIII Consultative Meeting. May 1999. Proposed Balleny Island Specially Protected Area. Submitted by New Zealand. Agenda Item 7f. CEP Agenda Item 5e.

Headland, Robert. Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1998.


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