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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Staying away from home: Black Petrels are present at sea off Peru during summer

 Black Petrel flying 3 Kirk Zufelt

Black Petrel at sea, photograph by Kirk Zufelt

 Javier Quinones (Oficina de Investigaciones en Depredadores Superiores, Instituto del Mar del Perú, Callao, Perú) and colleagues have published in the journal Notornis on ACAP-listed and globally Vulnerable Black Petrels Procellaria parkinsoni observed in Peruvian waters.

A total of 47 Black Petrels was recorded during at-sea surveys off the coast of Peru during February and March 2020; nearly all over the continental slope.  The short note ends:

“As most adult black petrel[s] are nesting in New Zealand during this period, it is evident that part of the population at different age classes is spending their summers in northern Perú.  These birds are likely to be affected by different levels of risk associated with human-induced factors including fisheries bycatch, pollution events and climate change compared to those birds that migrate to breed in New Zealand.  Management measures such as the creation of a Marine Important Bird Area in the highly productive waters of Northern Perú and introducing mitigation measures to fisheries vessels could help protect this vulnerable New Zealand species whenever they are present in the region.”

With thanks to Roger Sharp, Web Support, Birds New Zealand.


Quinones, J., Calderon, J., Mayaute, L. & Bell, E. 2020.  Black petrel (Procellaria parkinsoni) congregations at sea off Perú during the Austral summer.  Notornis 67: 573-576.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 21 January 2021

ACAP loses a friend with the passing of Robert Vagg last week

 Robert Vagg

Robert Vagg, 1961-2021, photograph by Martin Wein

Robert Vagg, friend and supporter of ACAP, and long-term English language Editor and Report Writer in the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), passed away unexpectedly in Bonn, Germany on 13 January, just three days before his 60th birthday (click here).

ACAP’s Information Officer first met Robert at the Seventh Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CMS held in Bonn in Germany in September 2002 which he was attending on the BirdLife International delegation as the NGO’s Coordinator of its (then) Seabird Conservation Programme.  Robert was on the UK Delegation as  International Conservation Policy Adviser, Zoos and International Species Conservation, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs  (DEFRA).  This was a time between the signing of the Albatross and Petrel Agreement in 2001 and its adoption in 2004, so the conservation of albatrosses was on the agenda, with a mention in a message to the COP from H.R.H the Prince of Wales (himself a noted supporter of albatross conservation) calling on the international community to ratify and implement the Agreement as soon as possible.  In conversation it was clear that Robert also had a personal interest in the conservation of albatrosses and petrels and in the development of ACAP.

Robert joined the CMS Secretariat in 2005.  Ever since then, and most recently late last month, he regularly contacted the ACAP Secretariat with news of and links to popular articles and scientific papers he had come across that were of relevance to the work of the Agreement.  Many of these “heads-up” resulted in posts to ACAP Latest News, the most recent on the first of January this year, accompanied by his season’s greetings and a message for all the best for 2021.

Mark Tasker, current Convenor of ACAP’s Taxonomy Working Group (and past Chair of the Advisory Committee) knew Robert Vagg well as a friend and past colleague at DEFRA.  He writes of Robert to ACAP Latest News: “My main memory will always be of his very dry sense of humour and inability to take any incompetent seniors seriously.  He also adopted that great catch-phrase from the TV series (UK version) of House of Cards ‘You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment’ to fit a number of situations.”

Robert Vagg leaves his parents and a brother.  ACAP extends its condolences to them, and to all his past and present colleagues within the Bonn Convention and in the United Kingdom.

With thanks to Mark Tasker.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 20 January 2021.

Oli Yates rejoins Birdlife International’s Marine Programme as its new head

Oli Yates Tristan 2 

Oli Yates on Tristan da Cunha, with Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses in the background

The BirdLife International Marine Programme was led from 2013 by Cleo Small (now Cunningham), who left last year to become Deputy Head, Conserving Land and Seascapes for the UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre.  Her position has now been taken by Oliver (Oli) Yates, who previously was a Senior Marine Science Advisor at the UK’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS).  Before then he had spent a decade working with BirdLife’s Albatross Task Force, firstly as Coordinator based in Chile, and then as Programme Manager, based in the UK.

Oli Yates writes to ACAP Latest News:

“I am delighted to be joining the BirdLife International Marine Programme, returning to my roots after three years supporting development of marine protection strategies and RFMO engagement under the UK Government's Blue Belt Programme.  The Birdlife International Marine Programme has a well-established team dedicated to the conservation of threatened seabirds and the marine habitats and ecosystems they rely on.  The Programme focuses on reducing multiple threats to vulnerable seabirds through i) grass-roots projects and fishery sector engagement to develop and implement seabird bycatch mitigation measures in target fisheries, and ii) marine science to inform national, regional and global marine policy decisions - particularly through provision of strong spatial and temporal evidence to demonstrate the most important places for seabirds and associated biodiversity."

"The Marine Programme is managed on behalf of BirdLife by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and conducted through the BirdLife network of NGOs and collaborating in-country organisations.  Our work is possible thanks to generous support from the RSPB membership, David & Lucile Packard Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, MAVA Foundation, and Fondation Segré, amongst other international funds.   We have always worked closely with the ACAP Secretariat and Parties to support activities that mitigate threats to ACAP-listed seabird populations and I very much look forward to continuing that collaboration.”

Oli Yates has a MSc in Geographical Information Systems from the University of Southampton.  Click here for a listing of scientific papers co-authored by Oli on seabird bycatch mitigation.

With thanks to Oli Yates.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 19 January 2021

ACAP Breeding Site No. 95. Motuhara supports Buller’s and Northern Royal Albatrosses and Northern Giant Petrels

 Motuhara Forty Fours Bsarry Baker

Motuhara from the air, photograph by Barry Baker

 Motuhara, otherwise known as the Forty-Fours, is a 11.5-ha island surrounded by six stacks 50 km east of the Chatham Islands (and is thus New Zealand’s easternmost territory).  The island, made up of hard sandstone with a thin soil covering, reaches 60 m via sea cliffs to a relatively flat plateau.  Vegetation consists of herb fields and low shrubs.

Motuhara and some of its sea stacks

Three ACAP-listed species breed in numbers on Motuhara.  Based largely on ground counts made in 2016 the biennially breeding Northern Royal Albatross Diomedea sanfordi (Endangered) has an annually breeding population of the order of 2000-2500 pairs, with 270 occupied nests of this total counted on four of the offshore stacks.  Northern Buller’s Albatrosses Thalassarche bulleri platei (Near Threatened) number around 15 000 -18 000 pairs – the largest colony of the subspecies.  New Zealand’s largest population of Northern Giant Petrels Macronectes halli (Least Concern) is estimated as c. 2000 pairs, based on a count of chicks.  There is relatively little information on population trends for the three species on Motuhara.  Northern Royal Albatrosses are considered to be decreasing in numbers overall, partially (along with fisheries mortality) due to a large storm in 1985 that washed away soil and vegetation in breeding areas leading to nest failures and subsequent reduced subsequent juvenile recruitment.  Up to the middle of the 20th century albatross feathers and bones for cultural purposes and eggs and chicks for human consumption were collected by the indigenous population of the Chathams from the albatross islands; in the last few decades of exploitation only sporadically and sometimes illegally.  The albatrosses (and giant petrels) are now fully protected.

In addition, a single pair of White-capped Albatrosses Thalassarche cauta (Near Threatened) has bred on the island over several seasons, and a Vulnerable Salvin’s Albatross T. salvini pair on at least one occasion.  The Chatham Island Fulmar Prion Pachyptila crassirostris pyramidalis also breeds on Motuhara.

Motuhara Mike Bell White capped Albatross held for banding Motuhara by Mark Fraser

Mike Bell holds a White-capped Albatross for banding on Motuhara, photograph by Mark Fraser

Research activities on Motuhara have concentrated on censuses of breeding birds, by ground counts, aerial photography and satellite imagery, along with some limited banding.  The island is in private ownership as Māori Freehold Land; research landings are by agreement with the registered owners.  The island is free of introduced vertebrates and vascular plants.  It has been identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.

With thanks to Barry Baker and Mike Bell.


Aikman, H. & Miskelly, C. 2004. Birds of the Chatham Islands.  Wellington: Department of Conservation.  116 pp.

Andrews, P.B., Campbell, H.J. & Watters, W.A. 1978.  The Forty Fours: The most easterly outcrop of Mesozoic basement in the New Zealand region.  New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics. 21: 649-652.

Baker, G.B., Jensz, K., Bell, M., Fretwell, P.T. & Phillips, R.A. 2017.  Seabird Population Research, Chatham Islands, 2016/17 Aerial Photographic Survey. Final Report. Report prepared for Department of Conservation Contract 4686-2.  [Kettering]: Latitude 42 Environmental Consultants Pty Ltd.  19 pp.

Bell, B.D. & Robertson, C.J.R.  1994.  Seabirds of the Chatham Islands.  BirdLife Conservation Series No. 1.  pp. 219-228.

Bell, M., Bell, D., Boyle, D. & Tuanui-Chisholm, H.  2017.  Motuhara Seabird Research: December 2016.  Blenheim: Wildlife Management International.  17 pp.

Fraser, M., Cameron, N., Scofield, P. & Robertson, C.J.R. 2010.  Population assessment of Northern Buller’s Albatross and Northern Giant Petrels at the Forty-Fours, Chatham Islands, 1 – 8 December 2009.  Final Report to Ministry of Fisheries.  Christchurch: National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

Frost, P.G.H. 2018.  Aerial Census of Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) Fledglings on Rangitatahi (The Sisters) and Motuhara (Forty-Fours), July 2017.  Whanganui: Science Support Service.  22 pp.

Miskelly, C.M., Bester, A.J. & Bell, M. 2006.  Additions to the Chatham Islands’ bird list, with further records of vagrant and colonising bird species. Notornis 53: 213-228.

Miskelly, C.M., McNally, M., Seymour, J., Gregory-Hunt, D. & Lanauze, J. 2008.  Antipodean wandering albatrosses (Diomedea antipodensis) colonising the Chatham Islands.  Notornis 55: 89-95.

Robertson, C.J.R. 1991.  Questions on the harvesting of Toroa in the Chatham Islands.  Science and Research Series 35: 1-105.  Wellington: Department of Conservation.

Robertson, C.J.R. 1998.  Factors influencing the breeding performance of the Northern Royal Albatross.  In: Robertson, G. & Gales, R. (Eds).  Albatross Biology and Conservation.  Chipping Norton: Surrey Beatty & Sons.  pp. 99-104.

Robertson, C.J.R. & Sawyer, S. 1994.  Albatross research on (Motuhara) Forty Fours islands: 6-15 December 1993. Conservation Advisory Science Notes No. 70.  Wellington: Department of Conservation. 10 pp.

Taylor, G.A. 2000.  Action Plan for Seabird Conservation in New Zealand. Part A. Threatened Seabirds. Threatened Species Occasional Publication No. 16. Wellington: Department of Conservation.  233 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 18 January 2021

An albatross around the neck

 Coleridge watchet ancient mariner

 The Ancient Mariner statue, Watchet, Somerset, UK by sculptor Alan Herriot (click here)

At times, we may describe our inescapable problems, unrelievable burdens, or unsurpassable barriers as an Albatross around the neck.  This idiom can refer equally to existing events or potential situations, and apply to subjects like individuals, groups, entities and infrastructure, to name but a few of its uses.  It comes from an old lyrical ballad by the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere:

Had I from old and young;
Instead of the Cross the Albatross
About my head was hung.

This lyrical ballad concerns the chance meeting of the Ancient Mariner with an unnamed wedding guest, whom he waylays and recites a tale about the dreadful consequences after the Ancient Mariner kills an albatross that was following his sailing ship.

The idea for this lyrical ballad is said, in part, to have arisen during a walk in the Quantock Hills in Somerset where Coleridge’s friend and poet, William Wordsworth, talked about a book he had been reading.  Wordsworth was referring to A Voyage Round the World by Way of the Great South Sea, by Captain George Shelvocke, in which there is an account of the killing of an albatross by one of his crew.

It is interesting in the light of World Albatross Day this year to see the relevant extract from Capt. Shelvocke’s account and the transformation of this into part of Coleridge’s lyrical ballad.

 A Voyage Round the World by Way of the Great South Sea

by Capt. George Shelvocke Commander of the Speedwell, Recovery, &c. in this Expedition (1726)

Thursday, October 1.[1] At 7 in the evening, as they were furling the main-sail, one William Camell cry’d out, that his hands and fingers were so benumb’d that he could not hold himself, but before those that were next to him could come to his assistance, he fell down and was drown’d.

The cold is certainly much more insupportable in these, than in the same Latitudes to the Northward; for, although we were pretty much advanced in the summer season, and had the days very long, yet we had continual squals of sleet, snow and rain, and the heavens were perpetually hid from us by the gloomy dismal clouds.

In short, one would think it impossible that any living thing could subsist in so frigid a climate; and, indeed, we all observed, that we had not had the sight of one fish of any kind, since we were come to the Southward of the streights of le Mair, [2] nor one sea-bird, except for a disconsolate black Albitross who accompanied us for several days, hovering about us as if he had lost himself, till Hatley, (my second Captain) observing, in one of his melancholy fits, that this bird was always hovering near us, imagin’d, from his colour, that it might be some ill omen.

That which, I suppose, induced him the more to encourage his superstition, was the continued series of contrary tempestuous winds, which had oppress’d us ever since we had got into this sea. But be that as it would, he, after some fruitless attempts, at length, shot the Albitross, not doubting (perhaps) that we should have a fair wind after it.

I must own, that this navigation is truly melancholy, and was the more so to us, who were by ourselves without a companion, which would have somewhat diverted our thoughts from the reflection of being in such a remote part of the world, as it were, separated from the rest of mankind to struggle with the dangers of a stormy climate, far distant from any port to have recourse to, in case of the loss of masts, or any other accident; or any other ship.

These considerations were enough to deject our spirits, when we were sensible of the hourly danger we were in of losing our masts, by the incessant continuance of such stormy weather as we underwent; but the hops of enjoying a long repose in the Pacific Sea on the coast of Peru, lightned our cares, and gave us some small relief.

Source: Shelvocke, G. 1726.  A Voyage Round the World by Way of the Great South Sea.  London: J. Senex.  pp. 72-74.

 The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,
in seven parts

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)

Listen Stranger! Mist and Snow,
And it grew wond’rous cauld:
And Ice mast-high came floating by
As green as Emerauld.

And thro’ the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen;
Ne shapes of men ne beasts we ken—
The Ice was all between.

The Ice was here, the Ice was there,
The Ice was all around:
It crack’d and growl’d, and roar’d and howl’d—
Like noises of a swound.

At length did cross an albatross,
Through the Fog it came:
And an it were a Christian Soul,
We hail’d it in God’s name.

The Marineres gave it biscuit-worms,
And round and round it flew:
The Ice did split with a Thunder-fit
The Helmsman steer’d us thro’.

And a good south wind sprung up behind,
The Albatross did follow;
And every day for food or play
Came to the Marinere’s hollo!

In mist or cloud on mast or shroud
It perch’d for vespers nine,
Whiles all the night thro’ fog-smoke white
Glimmer’d the white moon-shine.

“God save the, ancient Marinere!
“From the fiends that plague thee thus—
“Why look’st thou so?”—with my cross bow
I shot the Albatross.

The Sun came up upon the right,
Out of the Sea came he;
And broad as a weft upon the left
Went down into the Sea.

And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet Bird did follow
Ne any day for food or play
Came to the Marinere’s hollo.

And I had done an hellish thing
And it would work ‘em woe;
For all averr’d, I had killed the Bird
That made the Breeze to blow.

Source: Wordsworth W. & Coleridge, S.T. 1798.  Lyrical Ballads.  London: J. & A. Arch.  pp. 8-12, lines 49-98.

[1] In the year 1719.

[2] Le Maire Strait lies between Isla de los Estados and the eastern extremity of Tierra del Fuego.

Coleridge painting 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (21 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) in his 20s in the UK National Portrait Gallery, dated 1795 by the Dutch artist Peter Vandyke (click here)

Marine ornithologists have long speculated over what species was Shelvocke’s “disconsolate black Albitross”, and thus by inference what was Coleridge’s bird.  Suggestions include a juvenile Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans, a sooty albatross Phoebetria sp., or a giant petrel Macronectes sp. (see references below).  While all are plausible, the truth will remain elusive.

Click here for earlier ACAP Latest News postings on Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his poem.

With thanks to Janine Dunlop, Niven Librarian, FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town.

Selected Literature

Barwell, G. [2007] 2014.  Coleridge’s albatross and the impulse to seabird conservation. Kunapipi 29: 22-61.

Barwell, G. 2014.  Albatross. London: Reaktion Books.  208 pp.  [REVIEW]

Bourne, W.R.P. 1982. The Ancient Mariner’s Albatross.  Sea Swallow 31: 56-57.

Brown, R.G.B. 1981.  Was Coleridge’s albatross a giant petrel?  Ibis 123: 551.

Jonathon H.S. Barrington, 15 January 2021