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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Australians and New Zealanders get voting again for Bird of the Year: Short-tails, Antipodeans or Whenua Hous?

Each year Australians and New Zealanders get the chance to vote for their favourite bird in Bird of the Year (BOTY) competitions. 

The Aussies have come up with 50 birds on their list this year; but only two on the voting list of 50 are seabirds.  These two marine birds are the Little Penguin Eudyptula minor and the only procellariiform species, the Short-tailed Shearwater Ardenna tenuirostris, a species currently of some concern as the back migration from Alaskan waters to islands around Tasmania is running late and so far very few birds are being seen, pehaps due to die-offs in the northern hemisphere (click here and here).  Might this lead to a change from its Least Concern status?

Unfortunately, the shearwater is currently coming third last in the 48th position with only 157 votes at the time of writing, so it looks very much like it will not get past the first round (nor it seems will the penguin, which is currently in the 16th position).  Albatross and petrel lovers are not completely left out, however, as the opportunity exists for a write-in species (but it “must have wings”).  ACAP-listed Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta, endemic to Australia and globally Near Threatened, anyone?  Move fast though as at the end of the first round the 10 birds with the most votes will automatically make it to the final round of voting, and the first round closes at the end of this week on 8 November!

Over in New Zealand, often deemed the “seabird capital of the world”, the BOTY 2019 choice is far better for the fish-eaters (unlike in Australia, there are no less that 10 ACAP-listed albatrosses and petrels on the BOTY list) – and the rules are rather different.  “The organiser of the annual avian electoral race, Forest & Bird, is using a Single Transferable Voting (STV) system this year where Kiwis can rank their five favourite native birds.”  Voting closes at 127h00 [local time] on this Sunday (10th). To cast your vote, click here.

Antipodean Albatross (Gibson's subspecies) on Adams Island, Auckland Islands, photograph by Colin O'Donnell

So where does the globally Endangered (and nationally Critical) Antipodean Albatross Diomedea antipodensis fit in?  It’s the first choice of ACAP’s Executive Secretary (and Kiwi), Christine Bogle of course!  Not to be outdone, New Zealand’s Minister of Conservation, Eugenie Sage MP has announced on her Facebook page “this year I’m officially backing the Gibson's albatross for Forest & Bird's Bird of the Year 2019”.  ACAP recognizes Gibson’s Albatross of the Auckland Islands as a subspecies, gibsoni, of the Antipodean, so that’s really two votes for a species that has been recognized as of special concern by ACAP.  It’s also a species up for listing on Appendix 1 of the Convention on Migratory Species because of its threatened status next year – as tomorrow’s post to ACAP Latest News will detail.

"Diomedea antipodensis gibsoni are among the largest of the world’s seabirds. They live to 50-60 years if they manage to avoid being hooked on a fishing longline. They only breed on the remote Auckland Islands and they fly to the seas off Chile and southern Australia to feed. Their numbers have declined dramatically and they need our help." - Eugenie Sage MP

Lastly, what about the Whenua Hou Diving Petrel Pelecanoides whenuahouensis, New Zealand’s newest (too new even to have yet got a global category of threat) and it seems, rarest seabird?  It’s not ACAP-listed but another New Zealander, Igor Debski, Co-convenor of ACAP’s Seabird Bycatch Working Group, has the “Flying Penguin” as his first choice, writing to ALN: “it’s been rather overlooked previously and at less than 100 pairs, and at high risk to climate change, I think it really needs a lift in its profile.”

But maybe all academic, yesterday’s news is that that with only a few days of voting left there the only seabird in the top five so far is the globally Endangered Yellow-eyed Penguin or Hoiho Megadyptes antipodes.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 05 November 2019

Look out, land ahead! Homing Manx Shearwaters “fail to encode” peninsulas and islands

Oliver Padget (Department of Zoology, Oxford University, UK) and colleagues have published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) on homing ability of Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“While displacement experiments have been powerful for determining the sensory basis of homing navigation in birds, they have left unresolved important cognitive aspects of navigation such as what birds know about their location relative to home and the anticipated route.  Here, we analyze the free-ranging Global Positioning System (GPS) tracks of a large sample (n = 707) of Manx shearwater, Puffinus puffinus, foraging trips to investigate, from a cognitive perspective, what a wild, pelagic seabird knows as it begins to home naturally.  By exploiting a kind of natural experimental contrast (journeys with or without intervening obstacles) we first show that, at the start of homing, sometimes hundreds of kilometers from the colony, shearwaters are well oriented in the homeward direction, but often fail to encode intervening barriers over which they will not fly (islands or peninsulas), constrained to flying farther as a result.  Second, shearwaters time their homing journeys, leaving earlier in the day when they have farther to go, and this ability to judge distance home also apparently ignores intervening obstacles.  Thus, at the start of homing, shearwaters appear to be making navigational decisions using both geographic direction and distance to the goal.  Since we find no decrease in orientation accuracy with trip length, duration, or tortuosity, path integration mechanisms cannot account for these findings.  Instead, our results imply that a navigational mechanism used to direct natural large-scale movements in wild pelagic seabirds has map-like properties and is probably based on large-scale gradients.

Manx Shearwater, photograph by Nathan Fletcher

Read a popular account here.


Padget, O., Stanley, G., Willis, J.K., Fayet, A.L., Bond, S., Maurice, L., Shoji, A., Dean, B., Kirk, h., Juarez-Martinez, I., Freeman, R., Bolton, M. & Guilford, T. 2019.  Shearwaters know the direction and distance home but fail to encode intervening obstacles after free-ranging foraging trips.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 04 November 2019

Sympatric Campbell and Grey-headed Albatrosses get a PhD for Caitlin Kroeger

Caitlin Kroeger (Department of Ocean Sciences, Long Marine Lab, University of California, Santa Cruz, California, USA) has been awarded a PhD for her thesis on sympatric breeding Campbell Thalassarche impavida and Grey-headed Albatrosses T. chrysostoma during incubation and early-chick-rearing stages on New Zealand’s Campbell Island.

The abstract of her thesis follows:

“The modulation of energy balance through physiological or behavioral adjustments (i.e., allostasis) allows organisms to cope with unexpected challenges, ensuring reproductive success and survival. However, energetic challenges can be exacerbated during critical life stages such as breeding, when more resources are needed to feed offspring. Amphibious marine organisms like seabirds already face a unique challenge of finding patchily distributed ephemeral prey within a vast, dynamic ocean and delivering prey to hungry chicks at land-based nests. With the depletion of ozone and rising sea temperatures, atmospheric and oceanographic disruptions are escalating, affecting the distribution of prey in addition to altering windscapes that seabirds, like the glider-shaped albatrosses, rely on for traveling. Metabolic stress hormones in seabirds can be used to indicate adverse changes within the environment; however, the functional role of stress hormones is confounded by factors such as species, life history, or breeding stage. In chapter 2, I used structural equation models to improve our understanding of the role of corticosterone, a stress hormone, as a mediator of energy balance in two sympatric breeding albatrosses during incubation and early-chick-rearing stages. Campbell (Thalassarche impavida) and grey-headed albatrosses (T. chrysostoma) are annual and biennial breeders, respectively, that occupy differing prey niches. By measuring foraging behavior, mass change, and hormone levels, I found that corticosterone concentrations before and after foraging trips were similar between species and across stages, potentially because of behavioral flexibility or different corticosterone functional roles across stages. However, when parents were provisioning small chicks during the guard stage, the former were more sensitive to changes in energy balance, suggesting that hormone concentrations elicited during this stage are indicative of foraging conditions. Also, pre-trip corticosterone may determine foraging destination in incubation-stage Campbell albatrosses, but it remains unclear if this mediates foraging success. In chapter 3, I examined the role of environmental interactions, behavioral flexibility, and morphological constraints on energy balance during early chick-rearing using the doubly labelled water method to estimate the daily energy expenditure (DEE) of GPS tracked individuals. In both species, greater DEE was associated with greater foraging success, lower mean wind speeds during water take-offs, a greater proportion of strong tailwinds (> 12 ms-1), and younger chick age. Greater foraging success was marginally costlier in male albatrosses of both species and DEE was higher in grey-headed albatrosses when they experienced a greater proportion of strong headwinds. Climate models predict wind speeds will weaken in the foraging range of female Campbell albatrosses and intensify in the range of grey-headed and male Campbell albatrosses, thus breeding costs may increase for both species. In chapter 4, I used a flight cost function to show that mean flight costs were greater during the incubation stage for grey-headed albatrosses, which may interrupt breeding cycles. I then used reanalyzed wind data in combination with bird-borne GPS tracking data to score the cost of flight path trajectory choices and to calculate vector correlation coefficients to evaluate wind-use consistency. Greater wind-use consistency resulted in lower mean flight costs and greater foraging success for both species, but Campbell albatrosses that use low-wind regions had the greatest wind-use consistency. Males of both species gained less mass than females when making similar cost choices during incubation stage transit. Chick-rearing individuals of both species traded greater cost choices for greater foraging success during outbound transit. Overall, foraging strategy, mediated by hormones and morphology, revealed energetic vulnerabilities with respect to species, sex, and breeding stage.”

Note that thesis is “is under embargo until March 20, 2020”.  Access more of Caitlin’s research here.


A Campbell (right) and a Grey-headed Albatross interact on Campbell Island


Kroeger, C.E. 2019.  Stress hormones, foraging energetics, and wind-use patterns in two sympatrically breeding southern albatrosses.  PhD thesis.  University of California Santa Cruz.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 01 November 2019

A Northern Giant Petrel that dies during treatment in Brazil is found to contain plastic

On 24 September the Centro de Recuperação de Animais Marinhos, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande (CRAM-FURG) received a Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli (see below) rescued by the Department of Environment, Santa Vitória Do Palmar, the southernmost municipality in Brazil (click here).

The petrel died during treatment.  During a following necropsy to determine the cause of death a large number of plastic fragments was found in the gastro-intestinal deal tract (see photo below).

CRAM-FURG (Centre for Recovery of Marine Animals) is a hospital dedicated to the rehabilitation of animals, including seabirds, seals and turtles found in Rio Grande do Sul.  The centre reports increasing levels of ingested plastic in treated animals.

Click here to access other posts to ACAP Latest News that describe more cases of giant petrels ingesting plastic objects, as well as latex balloons.

With thanks to Projeto Albatroz, photographs from CRAM-FURG.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 31 October 2019

Tracked Amsterdam Island albatrosses travel outside the surrounding EEZ MPA and overlap with high-seas longliners

Harine Heerah (Centre d'Etude Biologique de Chizé, Villers-en-Bois, France) and colleagues have published in the journal Biological Conservation on tracking Amsterdam Albatrosses Diomedea amsterdamensis, Sooty Albatrosses Phoebetria fusca, Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses Thalassarche carteri and Northern Rockhopper Penguins Eudyptes moseleyi at sea from Amsterdam Island in relation to longline fishing effort and marine protected areas.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“In the Southern Ocean, the impact of environmental changes and increasing human encroachment is causing declines in several populations of seabirds.  Amsterdam island (77°33′E; 37°50′S) hosts some emblematic but globally threatened seabird species with alarming population trends. In 2017, concerns about Amsterdam Island's marine biodiversity led to the extension of a marine reserve to the boundaries of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Nevertheless, it is unknown whether this protected area is sufficiently large to encompass the most important foraging hotspots of the threatened seabirds, particularly during key stages of their life cycle (e.g. breeding period). We analysed movements of four threatened seabird species using a tracking dataset acquired over several breeding seasons from Amsterdam Island: Amsterdam albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis, sooty albatross Phoebetria fusca, Indian yellow-nosed albatross Thalassarche carteri and northern rockhopper penguin Eudyptes moseleyi. Our objectives were threefold: (1) characterise the at-sea distribution of the above-mentioned populations and delineate the marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (mIBAs) triggered by them; (2) assess the potential threat at-sea by quantifying the overlap between seabird distribution and longline fishing efforts; (3) evaluate the coverage of identified mIBAs by marine protected areas and suggest complementary conservation actions. The identified important areas fell within the boundaries of the EEZ, but vastly exceeded the former reserve. Thus, our results reinforce the justification of the recent expansion of the reserve to the boundaries of the EEZ. However, overall seabird distributions extended beyond the EEZ (5 to 50% of the locations) and we found substantial overlap with longline fishing in the high seas. Our results provide a spatio-temporal envelope of where and when bycatch mitigation and observer coverage of longline fisheries should be mandated and enforced.”

Amsterdam Albatross at sea off Amsterdam Island, photograph by Kirk Zufelt


Heerah, K., Dias, M.P., Delord, K., Oppel, S., Barbraud, C., Weimerskirch, H. & Bost, C.A. 2019.  Important areas and conservation sites for a community of globally threatened marine predators of the Southern Indian Ocean.  Biological Conservation 234: 192-201.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 30 October 2019

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