Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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Foraging ecology of Short-tailed Shearwater study earns a PhD for Natalie Bool

Natalie Bool (Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia) has completed her PhD thesis on Short-tailed Shearwaters Ardenna tenuirostris.

The thesis abstract follows:

“Climate induced variability of prey abundance and its’ distribution, is a dominant factor regulating marine predator lifetime reproductive success and population viability. Seabirds are long-lived and they have evolved life-history traits such as delayed sexual maturity and intermittent breeding that buffer them against environmental variability. However, some species that have restricted dietary and range niches may be more sensitive to persistent negative climate perturbations. Therefore, gaining an understanding of how climate variability affects foraging ecology and reproductive parameters will be imperative if we are to determine the viability of seabird populations into the future. Doing so is important given the predictions that the Earth’s climate will continue to change at an accelerated rate in the coming century.

This thesis investigated whether the short-tailed shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris), an abundant seabird of the Southern Ocean, will be resilient in a rapidly changing environment. The foraging behaviour of short-tailed shearwaters from Wedge Island, Tasmania, was assessed over five years (2010 - 2016), and the trophic position of adults during the breeding season was also quantified (2005 - 2008 & 2012 - 2015) as were breeding parameters; breeding effort and success (2004 - 2016). This thesis aimed to 1) examine the non-breeding movements of short-tailed shearwaters and assess within-season foraging plasticity; 2) determine the influence of climate on the trophic position of adults during the breeding season; and 3) assess foraging movements in relation to environmental variability and whether this influenced breeding participation and success, and the mass of fledglings.

(1) Post-breeding, birds selected foraging sites in distinct regions of the Northern Hemisphere, the Sea of Okhotsk/North Pacific Ocean, and the southeast Bering Sea/North Pacific Ocean. Birds spent between 15% and 99% (62.8 ± 20) of the non-breeding season in these core foraging areas. An additional late season foraging region in the Chukchi Sea was utilised by 50% of tracked individuals. Birds that were tracked for consecutive winters (n = 8) returned to the same core foraging site, but the time they spent there varied between years. Having a hierarchical strategy, where individuals return to familiar areas but disperse when environmental conditions deteriorate would allow short-tailed shearwaters to buffer some of the effects that climate variability has on the distribution and abundance of prey. This is important as environmental conditions (sea surface temperature and sea surface height) vary between regions within and among years; and these regions are undergoing protracted change. Consequently, foraging flexibility may allow short-tailed shearwaters to better adapt to climate induced environmental change.

(2) The trophic level of short-tailed shearwaters during the breeding season was determined using two complimentary techniques, bulk stable isotope analysis (SIA) and compound specific stable isotope analysis of amino acids (AA-CSIA). While there were consistent seasonal trends in the feeding zones birds used within the Southern Ocean, there was little variability in the trophic position of the prey adults consumed during long-trips within or among years.

(3) The foraging movements of breeding birds were examined during both chick provisioning trips (short-trips) and when adults undertook extended trips into the Southern Ocean (long-trips). Whilst provisioning chicks, adults foraged within the shallow continental waters surrounding Wedge Island but undertook extended multi-day trips within the Southern Ocean when self-provisioning. When the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) was negative, adults travelled further and spent less time foraging, most likely because primary productivity was supressed in the regions, which birds travelled to during long-trips. Both the number of birds that engaged in breeding activities and breeding success varied considerably during the study period. Interestingly, climate variability was not found to influence the number of birds that bred, or breeding success. However, chicks fledged with lighter body masses when local sea surface temperature was warmer and when the SAM was positive. Such conditions could cause change in the distribution and abundance of the prey, which probably reduces the amount of energy chicks receive, resulting in reduced body mass at fledging.

By integrating information on the foraging distribution of short-tailed shearwaters throughout the annual cycle, in addition to the analysis of trends in the trophic level of prey consumed by breeding adults and the incorporation of intrinsic rates of breeding participation and success, this thesis provides important insights into how this abundant seabird deals with change in the distribution and availability of its resources. By having an extended foraging range and a flexible foraging strategy means that this species can better deal with changes in the environment compared to seabirds that have a restricted foraging range and narrow dietary niche. Nonetheless, the change in the functioning of the marine environment has the potential to reduce the size of short-tailed shearwater populations by increasing the rate of intermittent breeding and by reducing chick survival post-fledging.”


Sooty Shearwater at sea, photograph by Peter Ryan

Note the full thesis text is not available for request/download until 6 July 2020.


Bool, N.M. 2019.  The foraging ecology of the short-tailed shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris): life-history strategies and climate change.  PhD thesis, University of Tasmania, Hobart.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 28 October 2019

Antarctic Marine Ecosystem Futures Scientific Conference, Moscow, May 2020

The Antarctic Marine Ecosystem Futures Scientific Conference will be held in Moscow, Russia over 13-15 May 2020.

“The goal of the Conference is to foster collaboration between scientists studying Antarctic marine ecosystems to inform policy and to highlight the role of collaborative science in Antarctica.  During the Conference the participants will discuss the state of, and emerging threats to the Antarctic marine ecosystems; key challenges; and possible solutions.”

White-phase Southern Giant Petrel, Signy Island, maritime Antarctica, photograph by Michael Dunn

Main topics:

Scientific research in Antarctica: history, achievements, gaps, challenges and opportunities

Collaboration: examples of previous collaboration and ways to collaborate in the future

Antarctic marine ecosystems: structure and functioning

Changes and challenges for Antarctic marine ecosystems: climate change, invasive species, human activities

Antarctic krill: science, management and conservation

Marine mammals and seabirds: ecology, distribution, trends and challenges

Solutions and conservation measures including Marine Protected Areas, the role of science and the scientific community.

Languages for the conference will be Russian and English with simultaneous translation.

Read more here.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 27 October 2019

New Zealand’s new resource for seabird mitigation measures is now on line

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has released an on-line resource for mitigation measures for seabirds that are specific to surface and bottom longline, trawl, net and recreational fisheries.  Individual mitigation techniques for seabirds (e.g. deployment of bird-scaring lines; bird bafflers, discard management, sink rates, night setting, avoiding ‘ghost fishing’ from lost or discarded nets and lines, etc.) are described by short video clips with spoken commentaries.  More information is given in downloadable “circulars” that give specifications for bird-scaring lines and details for the other mitigation methods.

Also included in the new resource are Protected Species Identification Guides, including for seabirds, and a guide detailing best- practice methods for handling and treatment of protected species.  The latter document is available in a total of six languages spoken by important fishing nations.


A baffler in use keeping albatross at bay

With thanks to Graham Parker.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 26 October 2019

BirdLife South Africa to celebrate World Albatross Day and its “Eradicating Island Pests” theme in 2020

BirdLife South Africa is a 5000-member environmental NGO that is the country’s partner of BirdLife International.  Its mission is to strive to conserve birds, their habitats and biodiversity through scientifically-based programmes, through supporting the sustainable and equitable use of natural resources and by encouraging people to enjoy and value nature.

Residing within BirdLife South Africa’s structure is its Seabird Conservation Programme with a Cape Town-based team of six led by Alistair McInnes.  Its work includes preventing bycatch of seabirds in fisheries via its involvement with BirdLife International’s Albatross Task Force (led by Andrea Angel), protecting endangered coastal seabirds (notably the globally Endangered African Penguin Spheniscus demersus), and the Marion Island mouse eradication project.

Scalped! A Grey-headed Albatross chick on Marion Island will not survive the overnight attacks by mice, photograph from the FitzPatrick Institute

Mice were inadvertently introduced to Marion Island during the 1900s, and have since wreaked havoc on the island’s ecosystem (click here).  BirdLife South Africa is supporting the South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) to launch an island restoration project, which will aim to rid the island of mice.  To this end the NGO operates a “Mouse Free Marion” website that is collecting funds via a “sponsor a hectare” campaign.

BirdLife South Africa’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Anderson writes to ACAP Latest News in support of World Albatross Day: “Sixteen species of albatrosses occur in South Africa’s waters, all of which are listed in the regional and global Red Data Lists.  BirdLife South Africa and its Albatross Task Force have contributed towards their survival by reducing albatross mortalities in the trawl fishery by 99%, from an estimated 9000 to less than 100 killed a year.  As we prepare to celebrate World Albatross Day on 19 June 2020 (with the theme “Eliminating Island Pests”), we are committing to the restoration of Marion Island and the conservation of four iconic albatross species which breed on this sub-Antarctic island, including one fifth of the global population of Wandering Albatrosses that breed there.”

Mark Anderson, CEO, BirdLife South Africa

With thanks to Mark Anderson, Andrea Angel and Alistair McInnes.

Selected References:

Dilley, B.J., Schoombie, S., Schoombie, J. & Ryan, P.G. 2015.  ‘Scalping’ of albatross fledglings by introduced mice spreads rapidly at Marion Island.  Antarctic Science 28: 73-80.

Jones, M.G.W. & Ryan, P.G. 2010.  Evidence of mouse attacks on albatross chicks on sub-Antarctic Marion Island.  Antarctic Science 22: 39-42.

Maree, B.A., Wanless, R.M., Fairweather, T.P., Sullivan, B.J. & Yates, O. 2014.  Significant reductions in mortality of threatened seabirds in a South African trawl fishery.  Animal Conservation 17: 520-529.

Parkes, J. 2014.  Eradication of House Mice Mus musculus from Marion Island: a Review of Feasibility, Constraints and Risks.  In: Wanless, R.M. (Ed.).  BirdLife South Africa Occasional Report Series No. 1.  Johannesburg: BirdLife South Africa.  27 pp.

Preston, G.R., B.J. Dilley, J. Cooper, J. Beaumont, L.F. Chauke, S. L. Chown, N. Devanunthan, M. Dopolo, L. Fikizolo, J. Heine, S. Henderson, C.A. Jacobs, F. Johnson, J. Kelly, A.B. Makhado, C. Marais, J. Maroga, M. Mayekiso, G. McClelland, J. Mphepya, D. Muir, N. Ngcaba, N. Ngcobo, J.P. Parkes, F. Paulsen, S. Schoombie, K. Springer, C. Stringer, H. Valentine, R.M. Wanless & P.G. Ryan 2019. South Africa works towards eradicating introduced house mice from sub-Antarctic Marion Island: the largest island yet attempted for mice.  pp. 40-46.  In: Veitch, C.R., Clout, M.N., Martin, A.R., Russell, J.C. & West, C.J. (Eds).  Island Invasives: Scaling up to meet the Challenge.  Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.  xiv + 734 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 25 October 2019

The 47th Annual Meeting of the Pacific Seabird Group in February 2020 opens for business

The 47th Annual Meeting of the Pacific Seabird Group will be held at the Hilton Portland Downtown in Portland, Oregon, USA over 12-15 February 2020.  The meeting’s theme is “Seabirds: Connecting Land and Sea”; the scientific programme “will be jam packed with cutting edge technology and research that pushes the boundaries”.


Registration, abstract submission, and travel award applications for the 2020 Annual Meeting are now open; deadline for abstracts is 2 December 2019 (click here).

Click here to view the Special Paper Sessions, Symposia, Workshops and Hot Topic Discussions

“Portland has a lot to offer. This year’s field trips will offer you a chance to see Oregon, mountains to coast. We’re planning locally-inspired food and entertainment at the welcome reception and closing ceremony, and plenty of opportunities to network with colleagues who plan to attend from over a dozen countries.”

With thanks to Rob Suryan, Scientific Program Chair.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 24 October, 2019

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