Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

Albatrosses to spy on illegal fishers in the Southern Ocean

News in about a month ago is that French marine ornithologists led by Henri Weimerskirch of the Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé (CEBC) are to attach 60-70-g transceivers this austral summer to up to 250 globally Vulnerable Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans in the southern Indian Ocean. The devices will be able to pick up and record radar signals emanating from illegal fishing vessels up to five kilometres away, thus establishing their localities.

In an operation known as “Ocean Sentinel” vessel locations will be transmitted via satellite to the French Navy, which will then use the information received to identify vessels fishing in waters off the French sub-Antarctic islands of Crozet, Kerguelen and Amsterdam and attempt to intercept those deemed to be illegal (click here).

‘Vessels fishing illegally generally switch off their automatic identification system (AIS) to avoid being tracked by satellite, but they cannot navigate safely without emitting low-level radar signals which the birds’ transceivers can detect as they fly over the ships.  Sailing without radar in the rough waters of the Indian Ocean would be extremely reckless.  Radars mean safety, especially for illegal ships that have to detect and avoid naval vessels.”

Wandering Albatross at sea, photograph by John Chardine

Read more here and here.

Nathan Walker, Chair of the ACAP Advisory Committee reports to ACAP Latest News that “a few of the radar versions will be going out on Antipodean Albatrosses in New Zealand this austral summer”.  The system, developed by French and New Zealand scientists with Council of Europe funding, is also to be tested off the USA’s Hawaii in the North Pacific.


Weimerskirch, H., Filippi, D.P., Collet, J., Waugh, S.M. & Patrick, S.C. 2017.  Use of radar detectors to track attendance of albatrosses at fishing vessels.  Conservation Biology 32: 240-245.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer,18 December 2018