A Christchurch based-expeditionary cruise company has gone out on a wing and declared the discovery of a hitherto unknown species of seabird.

Heritage Expeditions believes the bird seen on a cruise south of the Solomon Islands is a new discovery.

Dubbed the "Heritage Lava Petrel", the bird has "prominent white markings on both its upper and underwing, dark chocolate brown plumage and a massive bill."

The discovery is being claimed by ornithologists Chris Collins, Lisle Gwynn and Sav Saville, who are experts on board the Heritage Cruise vessel Spirit of Enderby.

Heritage lava petrel: A fleeting glimpse of the possible new bird species. Photo / Supplied
Heritage lava petrel: A fleeting glimpse of the possible new bird species. Photo / Supplied

Passengers confirmed the sighting of four of the birds, with the cruise line describing them as "quite unlike anything in ornithological literature."

The sighting was made around 250 nautical miles south of Santa Ana in the Solomon Islands.

The company runs a number of itineraries popular with birdwatchers.

The lava petrel would not be the first new species spotted from a Heritage ship.

The New Caledonian storm petrel was discovered by a Heritage cruise to the western Pacific isles and expeditions to Russia's northeast passage discovered new breeding grounds for the endangered spoon-billed sandpiper.

In New Zealand the cruise line has a bit of a reputation for discovering new species of birds.

In 2016 an expedition to the Kermadec Islands recorded sightings of not one but two new bird species.

The expedition had confirmed sightings of the herald petrel and distinctive red-footed booby. Both birds were previously unknown to New Zealand.


"Over the last decade, new species have been detected in New Zealand at an average rate of one every 15 months," said Colin Miskelly for the Museum of Te Papa, but the Kermadec expedition was "unprecedented" in its success.

"Most of our birders come with their species lists of what they hope to see and, every once in a while, a very lucky few get to add an entire new species to that list," said a spokesperson for the cruise company.

For more details about Heritage Expeditions and birdwatching cruises visit heritage-expeditions.com