Story: Subantarctic islands

Page 3. Fauna

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Insects

There are over 200 insect species on each of the Auckland and Campbell islands. About a third are endemic, with especially high numbers of beetles and moths. Many insects are smaller than in New Zealand and a high proportion are flightless. Abundant blowflies and sandflies are a special torment for people.

Thank God it’s Fly-day

Auckland Island castaway Thomas Musgrave remembered that the sandflies’ ‘virulence surpasses my powers of description’. They flew in myriads ‘alighting upon us in clouds, literally covering every part of our skin that happened to be exposed.’ The coastwatchers stationed there during the Second World War had a notice pinned up in their hut: ‘Auckland Island calendar. Every day is Fly-day.’1

Birds

There are huge numbers of seabirds on the subantarctic islands, despite feral cats and pigs on the Auckland Islands, and cats and Norway rats on Campbell Island. The islands are vital breeding places for Southern Ocean birds. In 1982 the Snares alone had some 3 million breeding pairs of sooty shearwaters – about the same number as all breeding seabirds in the United Kingdom.

Other important bird families are:

  • albatrosses – 10 of the world’s 24 species breed in the subantarctic islands, and five are endemic to the region. The Auckland Islands have the largest breeding populations of wandering albatrosses and shy mollymawks (a type of albatross). Campbell Island has six species, including the biggest breeding population of southern royal albatrosses, the world’s largest albatross.
  • penguins – 10 species of penguin inhabit the islands, two of them endemic (the Snares crested and erect-crested penguins). Auckland and Campbell islands are home to New Zealand’s main population of yellow-eyed penguins.
  • shags – three endemic shags are found on Auckland, Campbell and Bounty islands. The Bounty Island shag is considered the world’s rarest cormorant.

Endemic taxa

There are no land birds on Bounty, but the other islands hold no less than 15 endemic taxa (groups of related species). They include:

  • three subspecies of the New Zealand snipe, which is extinct on the mainland
  • the teals of Auckland and Campbell islands, which have evolved into flightless forms
  • the Antipodes Island parakeet, an endemic species which exists alongside a second red-crowned parakeet.

The New Zealand falcon, threatened on the mainland, is found on Auckland Island, along with other New Zealand birds such as tūī and bellbirds.

Animals

Like mainland New Zealand, the subantarctic islands originally had no land mammals, but abundant sea mammals, especially four species of seals.

  • New Zealand fur seals were slaughtered in their thousands in the early 19th century, but have recovered to some degree, with more than 20,000 at Bounty Island in the early 2000s.
  • Southern elephant seals breed on Antipodes, Campbell and Auckland islands.
  • Leopard seals visit all islands.
  • Hooker’s or New Zealand sea lions, the world’s rarest species, predominantly breed on the Auckland Islands.

Southern right whales have also recovered and breed at both Campbell and Auckland islands. Humpback and sperm whales have been seen in the harbours of Campbell Island.

Introduced species

Sheep, goats, cattle and rabbits, all introduced to the Auckland Islands, have been eradicated, but cats, mice and pigs remain. There were cats and Norway rats on Campbell Island, but cats died out and rats were poisoned in 2001. The Bounty, Antipodes and Snares islands, and Disappointment and Adams islands in the Auckland group, are virtually predator-free.

There are no amphibians or reptiles, and while fish are abundant there are few species and those inshore are heavily worm-infested.

Footnotes:
  1. Quoted in Conon Fraser, Beyond the roaring forties: New Zealand’s subantarctic islands. Wellington: Government Printer, 1986, p. 72. Back
How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Subantarctic islands - Fauna', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/subantarctic-islands/page-3 (accessed 26 April 2019)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 12 Sep 2012