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 long way from home: a Northern Giant Petrel gets photographed in the North Pacific

A Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli was photographed off the coast of Washington, USA in the North Pacific on 8 December 2019 from the vessel Pacific Hustler while it was fishing for Black Cod or Sablefish Anoplopoma fimbria.  The bird can be identified specifically by the reddish tip to its bill.  Based on its rather uniform dark plumage it does not appear to be an adult.

Northern Giant Petrels breed on sub-Antarctic islands in the Southern Ocean with a circumpolar oceanic distribution recorded north to 25-28ºS, so the photographed bird was indeed a long way from home.

Northern Giant Petrel Washington 8.12.2019.Zed Blue 2 

Northern Giant Petrel Washington 8.12.2019.Zed Blue 3

The Northern Giant Petrel along with Black-footed Albatrosses Phoebastria nigripes and dark-phase Arctic Fulmars Fulmarus glacialis, photograph by Zed Blue

Checking my home library it seems this may be the first definite trans-equatorial record of a Northern Giant Petrel (although a Southern Giant Petrel M. giganteus has been sighted north of the Equator in the Atlantic).

Information from the Western Washington Birders.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 02 January 2020

Gough Island’s embattled birdlife and World Albatross Day, an albatross researcher speaks

Over two summers from 2006 to 2008 I lived on Gough Island in the South Atlantic where – among other tasks – I and colleagues set up a long-term study colony of biennially breeding and Critically Endangered Tristan Albatrosses Diomedea dabbenena in a mountain valley known as Gonydale  The main purpose was to learn more about the birds’ breeding success and survival rate in the face of onslaughts by the island’s introduced House Mice Mus musculus that attack and cause the death of their downy chicks during the austral winters.

Tristan Albatross chick by Ross Wanless

Mice attack a Tristan Albatross chick at night - it did not survive; photograph by Ross Wanless

In the decade since then successive teams of dedicated field biologists have continued every year to monitor the albatrosses that we first colour banded and staked, recording their less than natural breeding success and too often witnessing dead and dying chicks after nights of attacks by mice.  Such sights are hard to take, even for biologists used to watching predation and mortality in the field.  In 2017/18 Australian Kate Lawrence, veteran of two seasons of albatross research on Macquarie Island, was no exception, writing movingly of watching mice kill an Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos chick at night on Gough, saying as she watched it die that she felt: “incredibly sad and sick to my stomach”.

Kate Lawrence 1s

KIate recovers marker poles from failed Tristan Albatross nests due to mice during a heart-breaking survey in the Gonydale study colony on Gough Island, July 2018

Mouse attacks on Gough’s adult albatrosses have been reported on in the last two years (click here), making next year’s eradication attempt by the Gough Island Restoration Programme (GIRP) even more urgent – loss of breeding adults will cause species’ declines and possible local extinction faster than if only chicks are killed.  Kate returns to Gough Island this coming February on the New Zealand-registered expedition yacht Evohe as a GIRP Field Specialist.  She will be helping set up aviculture facilities, catching endemic and Critically Endangered Gough Finches Rowettia goughensis and Vulnerable Gough Moorhens Gallinula comeri (both considered at risk to non-target poisoning from the eradication exercise) and then helping with the husbandry of the captive birds.

Predation by mice on albatrosses on Gough, as well as on Marion and Midway Islands, was a compelling impetus for choosing the theme “Eradicating Island Pests” for next year’s inaugural World Albatross Day (WAD2020) on 19 June.

Before returning to Gough Island Kate has written to ACAP Latest News in support of WAD2020:

“I have been showing the baby to everyone and asking what they think it is and they always say a penguin!" was one response I got when I sent a photo of a Light-mantled Albatross [Phoebetria palpebrata] chick, alone and alert on its nest on Macquarie Island, to family and friends.  It reinforced to me how privileged I was to be working with such amazing creatures, species that many people do not get the chance to encounter in their lifetime.  World Albatross Day is an opportunity and a reminder to share our experiences far and wide, to highlight the conservation needs of these majestic birds and to spread the albatross love!”

With the love and commitment to help that biologists like Kate feel towards the world’s threatened albatrosses ACAP Latest News expects she and her GIRP colleagues will have a successful campaign on Gough in 2020.  I for one will be waiting anxiously to hear that the albatrosses I banded in Gonydale will be able to breed successfully at last.

Kate Lawrence 2s

Recording Tristan Albatross nest data on Gough, January 2018

Photographs of Kate Lawrence by Jaimie Cleeland

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 01 January 2020

 

The Laysan Albatrosses of Midway Atoll: creating displays and artworks from plastic pollution

Eight years ago I posted an article to ACAP Latest News that commenced:

“In 2000 I visited Midway Atoll in the North Pacific on an excursion after the Second International Conference on the Biology and Conservation of Albatrosses and other Petrels that had been held in Honolulu, Hawaii in May that year.  While on the island I was appalled by the many corpses of Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis chicks strewn around with their body cavities crammed with plastic debris fed to them by their parents, including cigarette lighters, bottle tops, toothbrushes and even toy soldiers and action heroes.  This led to my co-authoring a paper on colour selection by North Pacific albatrosses, suggesting that they prefer red, pink and orange cigarette lighters to blue and green ones, presumably mistaking them for edible prey (click here).  It is clear that a decade later the problem has not gone away.”

Laysan regurge plastic Chris Jordanlaysan albatross corpse2 midway chris jordanlaysan albatross corpse midway chris jordan

This year I reprised my post to mark World Migratory Bird Day (click here).  Two decades after my Midway visit the problem continues as evocatively set out in the freely-distributed film ‘Albatross’ by Chris Jordan, and in his photographs above.

Quite probably most Midway visitors pick up a plastic item or two from one of the many albatross corpses that litter the island to take home to show friends or just to display in their office as a reminder.  My own souvenir (left below) was given to me by marine ornithologist Rosemary Gales when I challenged our post-conference party to find action figures.  Australian biologist and World Seabird Union Vice-Chair Nicholas Carlile was also with us on Midway and still carefully looks after his own GI Joe find (right below).  Some have used their plastic pieces to illustrate talks.  More ambitious have been the several mounted displays and artworks created from the gathered plastic lighters, toys and fragments.  ACAP Latest News has brought together a few examples of these on the last day of the decade in a reflective mood and in an endeavour to increase awareness of how plastic ingestion continues to affect albatrosses and petrels.

Midway action figure J CooperMidway GI Joe Nicholas Carlile

Betty Anne Schreiber, marine ornithologist and the World Seabird Union’s Treasurer, has an early Midway Laysan Albatross collection - carefully displayed - from the 1980s (below left).

BA Schreiber 84 86 AlbatrossMidway

Auman 93 95 Midway toy collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marine biologist Heidi Auman made her own plastic toy display (above right) from Laysan Albatross corpses on Midway Atoll a decade later from 1993 to 1995.  I first met her on the atoll in 2000 when I obtained my own action figure.  Influenced by the levels of pollution on the island she later wrote ‘Garbage Guts’ for children (see the ALN review).  Included with her collection is a syringe: seemingly Laysan Albatrosses are not fussy what they swallow, more’s the pity.

Jan van Franeker, senior scientist at Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands, who studies plastic pollution in North Atlantic seabirds, writes: “Images say more than words.  I pulled toothbrushes, tampon-holders, combs, lighters and lots of other stuff out of the ribcages of a few decayed corpses of Laysan Albatross chicks on Midway Atoll in 2000.  Whenever I give a presentation on the problems of marine plastic litter for tube-nosed seabirds, I carry this small collection [below] with me. It is one of the stories that needs to be told.”

Laysan Midway Franeker

Sheldon Plentovich, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Coastal Program Coordinator has her own story: “In 2007 I worked on Kure Atoll for several months.  I camped there and one of the Laysan Albatross chicks living nearby thought I was interesting.  She would investigate all my belongings and come inside and make herself at home when I unzipped the door.  About a month before the bird was going to fledge, she started looking sick and eventually died.  This is a mural of the contents of her stomach.  There is a Hello Kitty doll in the middle.”

Sheldon Plentovich Laysan plastic load

Jennifer Urmstom, MS student in Marine Science at the Hawai'i Pacific University, has used her plastic collection to depict a Laysan Albatross (below).

Laysan Jennifer Urmston

Hawaiian-based marine biologist, volunteer nurse, sailor, author, columnist (read her 14 December column on mooning next to albatrosses) and artist Sue Scott has created mosaics she calls “The Lighter Side of Albatrosses”.  She describes her work: “I found all the pieces in albatross colonies and on beaches.  The plastic survived wind, waves and tropical sun.  Barnacles attach to it, crabs float on it, bryozoans encrust it, sharks bite it, and seabirds swallow it, perhaps because flying fish lay eggs on it.  After all this, the colors stay vivid (I clean the pieces, but don't paint them) and the plastic holds its shape.  My albatross images represent the positive in seabird survival, beach clean-ups and recycling.  I don't sell my art.  It belongs to the albatrosses. They find the lighters.”  Her piece below made out of plastic cigarette lighters is entitled "Flotsam in Flight".

Susan Scott Flotsam in Flight

It seems that reduction at source is the only way the problem of albatrosses ingesting plastic items is going to be solved.  Not an easy task!

With thanks to Heidi Auman, Nicholas Carlile, Rosemary Gales, Sheldon Plentovich, Susan Scott, Betty Anne Schreiber, Jennifer Urmstom and Jan van Franeker.

Reference:

Cooper, J. Auman, H.J. & Klavitter, J. 2004.  Do the albatrosses of Midway Atoll select cigarette lighters by color?  Pacific Seabirds 31: 2-4.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 31 December 2019

Racing to save the Antipodean Albatross with Live Ocean

Live Ocean is a marine conservation charitable trust with a mission to amplify and accelerate positive ocean action in New Zealand.  It aims to support and invest in promising marine science, innovation, technology and marine conservation projects.  The trust was founded by medal-winning Olympic, America’s Cup and Round-the-World sailors, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke in late 2019.  Peter and Blair are currently working towards participating in both the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the 36th America’s Cup.

Peter Burling Blair Tuke by Nick Reed shrunk

Olympic sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, photograph by Nick Reed

Sally Paterson

ACAP Latest News got in touch with the Chief Executive of Live Ocean, Sally Paterson, to learn more about the trust’s first project and what motivates its two founders.  Sally replies: “Live Ocean has chosen the Antipodean Albatross as the first focus of our marine conservation charity because this issue is so hard to see but it’s so important.  There are things we can do to help save this bird.  As a New Zealander, every time we lose a species that calls us home, we lose part of who we are.”

Peter Burling speaks to ALN of his commitment towards the trust’s first project: “When you’re in the Southern Ocean, working so hard, you look up and sometimes you’re lucky enough to see an albatross flying next to the boat.  They make it looks so easy, barely moving their enormous wings, they’re just so effortless.  The sailing community has got to come around this.  If we don’t, they’ll be gone in our children’s lifetime.”

Fellow trust founder Blair Tuke adds: “We have our blinkers on when it comes to the ocean, it’s much harder to see the issues than on land.  We're behind the race to save the Antipodean Albatross because we need to stand up and say it’s not OK to lose this species on our watch.”  Listen to their video clip describing the project here.

Live Ocean states on its website: “In the last 14 years, two thirds of the world’s breeding Antipodean Albatross have died, declining from about 17,000 breeding birds in 2004 to 6,000 in 2019. We’re losing two a day on average. That’s 800 breeding birds dying every year unnecessarily. The population is in freefall, and unless immediate action is taken we’ll lose this incredible New Zealand bird.”  The trust is raising funds to allow satellite tracking of Antipodean Albatrosses sea, as well as the adoption of “seabird smart” fishing practices.

Partnering with the Southern Seabird Solutions Trust (click here) Live Ocean’s first project addresses the high levels of at-sea mortality that are causing a drastic population decrease in the nominate subspecies of the Endangered Antipodean Albatross Diomedea antipodensis that breeds only on New Zealand’s Antipodes Island – but forages on the High Seas in the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea and into Chilean waters outside the breeding season.

Early financial contributions towards the costs of GPS trackers have come from the public, schools, New Zealand businesses such as Doyle Sails and from Yachting New Zealand.  Sally Paterson writes to ACAP Latest News “In total over NZ$50 000 has been raised for the satellite trackers so far but more is needed”.  The trackers will be placed on breeding Antipodean Albatrosses on Antipodes Island by New Zealand Department of Conservation researchers Graeme Elliott and Kath Walker from next month.  ACAP has identified the Antipodean Albatrosses breeding on Antipodes Island as a Priority Population for conservation management.

Live Ocean writes to ALN that it is looking forward to celebrating World Albatross Day in 2020 and using the day to highlight the continuing conservation crisis facing these iconic birds.  If a WAD2020 banner could be taken out to sea then perhaps an Antipodean Albatross wearing a satellite tracker could be persuaded to fly by and photo bomb?

  With thanks to Sally Paterson, Live Ocean.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 30 December 2019

ACAP-listed Balearic Shearwaters reach German waters

Kees Roselaar and Hans van Brandwijk (Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, The Netherlands) have published in English in the Dutch Seabird Group's journal Sula on an early overlooked record of an ACAP-listed (and Critically Endangered) Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus from Heligoland, Germany.

The paper’s Dutch summary follows, edited from a translation by Google Translate:

“The Balearic Shearwater [Puffinus mauretanicus] is a rare species in Germany.  It was not recorded in the field until 1992; since then it has been regularly observed in small numbers. There were no museum specimens of this species [from Germany] until the second author discovered a Balearic Shearwater in the collection of the Zoological Museum Amsterdam (ZMA. AVES 44474).  It concerns a bird in worn juvenile plumage, collected at Helgoland on 5 December 1893.  The bird shows the usual characteristics for the species: brown upper parts, whitish belly with extensive brown on undertail coverts, side of neck, flanks and underwing coverts.  The specimen was probably obtained by fishermen at sea near Helgoland and sometime between late 1910 and the end of 1913 was donated to René baron Snouckaert of Schauburg by Hugo Weigold, staff member of de Vogelwarte Helgoland in 1910-1924.  Why would Weigold give away such a special copy?  The answer to that question is simple:  Weigold determined the bird as a Manx Shearwater [P. puffinus], then still quite a common species in German waters.  However, this incorrect determination cannot be blamed on him, because the Balearic Shearwater was only officially described by Lowe eight years later, in 1921.

 Balearic Germany

Balearic Shearwater,  Heligoland, Germany, 5 December 1893; photograph by Hans van Brandwijk

Reference:

Roselaar, K. & van Brandwijk, H. 2019.  An old record of a Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus from Germany.  Sula 27. 3 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 29 December 2019

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