Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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Read about recent developments and findings in procellariiform science and conservation relevant to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels in ACAP Latest News.

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A feral cat is filmed feeding on a White-capped Albatross chick on Auckland Island

A feral cat Felis catus was photographed and videoed feeding from the corpse of a White-capped Albatross Thalassarche steadi chick (Near Threatened) on its nest at South-West Cape on New Zealand’s Auckland Island on 25 and 26 August this year (click here).

 

 

A feral cat feeds from a White-capped Albatross chick on Auckland Island, August 2019;  photographs by Department of Conservation o Te Papa Atawhai

Stephen Horn, Project Manager - Maukahuka - Pest free Auckland Island, has written to ACAP Latest News over the incident:

“The cat was first seen basking in the sun about 5 to 10 metres from the dead bird and the photographers waited for a couple of hours before it strolled down the hill and resumed feeding on it and they got the photos.  It was still there the next day.  Unable to say if it was just scavenging or had killed it.  The neck muscles had all been eaten and it was feeding on the back, no damage to the breast at that stage.”

There appear to be few records of feral cats attacking albatrosses (and in this case the cat may have come across a corpse rather than acted as a predator).  A feral cat was seen feeding on the corpse of a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross Phoebastria palpebrata chick on (now cat-free) Marion Island in 1981.  Cats have been thought to have killed a number of Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis chicks on the Hawaiian island of Kauai in 2015 (click here), although definite evidence of predation appears to be lacking.  A more exhaustive literature search may turn up more records from localities where albatrosses and feral cats co-exist – or once did.

Field work continues on Auckland Island towards the eradication of its cats, as well as of feral pigs Sus scrofa and House Mice Mus musculus (click here).  The most recent field team had photographed and videoed the cat feeding on the albatross.  Maukahuka Pest Free Auckland Island Project Manager Steve Horn reports that the team tested potential cat baits, with three of the four meat baits tested proving appealing to cats.  The winter team's monitoring also found that mouse numbers on the island had exploded after tussock seeding last summer, which appeared to have also caused an increase in the numbers of young cats.  The field team put GPS collars on 11 cats, adding to the 20 animals already being tracked from last summer.  The tracking has revealed cats range up to 70 square kilometres in search of food and move to steep coastal areas when seabirds, including the White-capped Albatross, have their young.

With “Eradicating Island Pests” as the chosen theme for next year’s inaugural World Albatross Day, ACAP Latest News will continue to post on the fortunes of the Maukahuka - Pest free Auckland Island project.  A report on the feasibility of the project is due to be considered by the Department of Conservation's Island Eradication Advisory Group in the coming weeks.

With thanks to Keith Broome, Finlay Cox and Stephen Horn.

Reference:

Berruti, A. 1981. The status of the Royal Penguin and Fairy Prion at Marion Island, with notes on feral cat predation on nestlings of large birds. Marine Ornithology 9: 123-128.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 07 October 2019

Manx Shearwater groundings in Scotland influenced by moon and wind

Martyna Syposz (Department of Biology, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK) and colleagues have published open access in the journal Ibis on the reasons for the grounding of fledgling Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus.

The paper’s abstract follows:

Grounding of thousands of newly fledged petrels and shearwaters (family Procellariidae) in built‐up areas due to artificial light is a global problem.  Due to their anatomy these grounded birds find it difficult to take off from built‐up areas and many fall victim to predation, cars, dehydration or starvation.  This research investigated a combination of several factors that may influence the number of Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus groundings in a coastal village of Scotland located close to a nesting site for this species. A model was developed that used meteorological variables and moon cycle to predict the daily quantity of birds that were recovered on the ground.  The model, explaining 46.32% of the variance of the data, revealed how new moon and strong onshore winds influence grounding.  To a lesser extent, visibility conditions can also have an effect on grounding probabilities.  The analysis presented in this study can improve rescue campaigns of not only Manx Shearwaters but also other species attracted to the light pollution by predicting conditions leading to an increase in the number of groundings.  It could also inform local authorities when artificial light intensity needs to be reduced.”

Manx Shearwater at sea, photograph by Nathan Fletcher

Reference:

Syposz, M., Gonçalves, F., Carty, M., Hoppitt, W. & Manco, F. 2018.  Factors influencing Manx Shearwater grounding on the west coast of Scotland.  Ibis 160: 846-854.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 06 October 2019

Genetic study confirms two White-chinned Petrel subspecies

Kalinka Rexer-Huber (Department of Zoology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand) and colleagues have published in the journal Molecular Ecology on genetic structure of the ACAP-listed and globally Vulnerable White‐chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“The Southern Ocean represents a continuous stretch of circumpolar marine habitat, but the potential physical and ecological drivers of evolutionary genetic differentiation across this vast ecosystem remain unclear. We tested for genetic structure across the full circumpolar range of the white‐chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) to unravel the potential drivers of population differentiation and test alternative population differentiation hypotheses. Following range‐wide comprehensive sampling, we applied genomic (genotyping‐by‐sequencing or GBS; 60,709 loci) and standard mitochondrial‐marker approaches (cytochrome b and 1st domain of control region) to quantify genetic diversity within and among island populations, test for isolation by distance, and quantify the number of genetic clusters using neutral and outlier (non‐neutral) loci. Our results supported the multi‐region hypothesis, with a range of analyses showing clear three‐region genetic population structure, split by ocean basin, within two evolutionary units. The most significant differentiation between these regions confirmed previous work distinguishing New Zealand and nominate subspecies. Although there was little evidence of structure within the island groups of the Indian or Atlantic oceans, a small set of highly‐discriminatory outlier loci could assign petrels to ocean basin and potentially to island group, though the latter needs further verification. Genomic data hold the key to revealing substantial regional genetic structure within wide‐ranging circumpolar species previously assumed to be panmictic.”Kalinka Rexer-Huber holds a White-chinned Petrel on New Zealand's Adams Island in the Auckland Island Group, photograph by Graham Parker

Read the abstract of Kalinka's PhD on White-chinned Petrels here.

Reference:

Rexer‐Huber, K., Veale, A.J., Catry, P., Cherel, Y., Dutoit, L., Foster, Y., McEwan, J.C., Parker, G.C., Phillips, R.S., Ryan, P.G., Stanworth, A.J., van Stijn, T., Thompson, D.R., Waters, J. & Robertson, B.C. 2019.  Genomics detects population structure within and between ocean basins in a circumpolar seabird: the white‐chinned petrel.  Molecular Ecology doi:10.1111/mec.15248.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 05 October 2019

“Albatrosses are magnificent and unique birds”. The Convention on Migratory Species’ Acting Executive Secretary, Amy Fraenkel supports Word Albatross Day

In May this year Ms Amy Fraenkel took over the reins as Acting Executive Secretary of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), following the untimely passing of the previous Executive Secretary in January.   It was discussions held at Conferences of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species in the 1990s that led the way for the signing of the Albatross and Petrel Agreement (ACAP) in June 2001.  ACAP is one of seven “daughter” Agreements of the CMS Family.  

Fitting then that Ms Fraenkel has written to ACAP Latest News in support of the inauguration of a World Albatross Day on 19 June next year, noting that albatrosses are “flagship species” offered protection under the CMS (where they are all listed on its Appendices).  The Acting Executive Secretary’s statement follows:

“Albatrosses are magnificent and unique birds, and are flagship species protected under the Convention on Migratory Species.  World Albatross Day provides an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of these beautiful birds and the threats that they face – including being caught in fishing operations, plastic pollution, climate change and invasive predator species.”

In response, ACAP's Executive Secretary, Christine Bogle and the Chair of its Advisory Committee, Nathan Walker have expressed their appreciation of the CMS Acting Executive Secretary’s support towards the Agreement's efforts to inaugurate World Albatross Day next June.

Ms Amy Fraenkel stands in front of an ACAP poster at the CMS Headquarters in Bonn, Germany

With thanks to Florian Keil and Barbara Schoenberg, Convention on Migratory Species.

Reference:

Cooper, J., Baker, G.B., Double, M.C., Gales, R., Papworth, W., Tasker, M.L. & Waugh, S.M. 2006. Forum - The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels: rationale, history, progress and the way forward. Marine Ornithology 34: 1-5.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 04 October 2019

Moving out of harm’s way: an Antipodean Albatross chick gets a helping hand during the “Million Dollar Mouse” eradication project

One member of the “Million Dollar Mouse” field team on New Zealand’s Antipodes Island aimed at eradicating House Mice Mus musculus in 2016 was Keith Springer, with the dual roles of Operational Advisor and Safety Officer.  Keith had previously managed a similar successful eradication exercise on Australia’s Macquarie Island so was well fitted for these roles.

Keith writes to ACAP Latest News with a special memory of his time on the island:

“We were about to change the orientation of the flight line for baiting the Antipodes, due to a wind change, and this chick [of a globally Endangered Antipodean Albatross Diomedea antipodensis] on its nest would have been nearly under the helicopter as it hovered to pick up a load of bait.  So we moved the chick and put it into an empty bait pod strewn with tussock - out of the wind and the noise and the proximate human activity.  When we opened the pod at the end of the day to return it to its nest it was fast asleep.”

Keith Springer cradles the downy Antipodean Albatross chick

Photograph by Finlay Cox, Project Planner - Maukahuka - Pest free Auckland Island

More information on the incident comes from the Department of Conservation’s Project Report written after completion of the eradication attempt as precised here: “Bait pods were positioned  … to avoid as far as practicable, impacts on Antipodean Albatross chicks on nests at the time.  Seven albatross chicks were on nests within 50 m of active areas at the bait-loading site, exposed to the greatest amount of low-altitude helicopter activity.  When exposed [to strong rotor wash], chicks stayed sitting on the nest, tucking their head down or under their wing without obvious alarm.  In most cases the response was like that observed during frequent stormy conditions.  On two occasions an albatross chick was uplifted from its nest during loading as the wind direction and limited number of remaining bait pods meant the position of helicopter would have directed severe rotor wash towards it.  The chick was placed in an empty wooden pod lined with tussock and enclosed for up to three hours.  It was asleep when retrieved from the pod on the first occasion and again seemed settled on the second occasion.  It [was] transferred back to its nest each time without any issues and fledged in February 2017.”

All seven chicks within the load site were alive at the completion of operations and six of the seven (86%) fledged successfully in early 2017.  Outside the load site the fledging rate of chicks alive at the time of bait sowing was 90%; this difference is not statistically significant.

Let’s hope the chick survives it juvenile years at sea and in a few years returns to Antipodes to commence breeding on a now mouse-free island, to be identified by the band placed on it as a chick.

Next year the inaugural World Albatross Day on 19 June will have the theme “Eradicating Island Pests”.  The success on Antipodes in eradicating House Mice points the way to more eradication efforts that World Albatross Day will attempt to highlight and celebrate.

With thanks to Finlay Cox, Stephen Horn and Keith Springer.

References:

Elliott, G. & Walker, K. 2017.  Antipodean Wandering Albatross Census and Population Study 2017.  Albatross Research.  13 pp.

Horn, S.R. & Hawkins, K. 2017.  Project Report, Antipodes Island Mouse Eradication. Department of Conservation Internal Report DOC-3000055.  88 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 03 October 2019

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