The kelp gull is one of approximately 55 seagulls and lives in all latitudes of the southern hemisphere. It is a very common species throughout its range. It closely resembles at least two other seagull species but does not overlap in geographic range with either one. The kelp gull is characterized by a mostly white head and body and dark wings. This general coloration, along with the species’ red-tipped bill, distinguishes the kelp gull from other related species in the southern hemisphere. This species gets its common name from its habit of feeding in kelp forests and other coastal, algal ecosystems.
Like many seagulls, the kelp gull eats a variety of prey and will both hunt and scavenge for suitable food. They forage for many species of living, coastal invertebrates and for human garbage. They occasionally take larger animals, like fishes and coastal reptiles or mammals. Individuals often also steal food from other predators. Kelp gulls will eat just about anything and are even known to parasitize some large marine mammals by biting off pieces of skin and blubber. In some cases, this repeated activity causes large wounds. Kelp gulls have few natural predators but are likely taken by large, coastal sharks when floating on the sea surface.
Like all seabirds, kelp gulls nest on land. They reproduce via internal fertilization, and the females lay fertilized eggs, in nests built directly on the ground. Nesting sites often occur along rocky shores but may also be farther upland. Both males and females incubate the eggs and care for the chicks.
The kelp gull is a common species throughout its range and is a species of least conservation concern. In fact, in many areas, populations are increasing, a likely result of human-caused degradation of coastal ecosystems. Kelp gulls are so successful in human ecosystems that they often increase in numbers with human disturbance (like construction and landfill operations).
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.