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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The symbolism of the albatross in Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick

Albatrosses (but much more rarely petrels) have appeared in poetry, as featured in ACAP Latest News from time to time.  Leaving aside the scientific and conservation papers and reports regularly covered in ALN and also children’s books (click here), albatrosses have also appeared in fictional prose literature.

In Chapter 42 entitled “The Whiteness of the Whale” in Herman Melville’s 1851 Romantic novel Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, Ishmael, the book’s narrator, muses over the significance and symbolism of the colour white, alluding to that most famous poem featuring an albatross, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Melville had gone to sea on a whaler for a year and a half as a “green hand” in 1840.  He most likely then encountered albatrosses when his ship rounded Cape Horn into the Pacific, giving him a personal experience (unlike Coleridge's) to influence his later writings.

According to one reviewer (click here): “Manifested perfectly in this chapter, Melville presents the purest of all symbols — the color white –, and transvalues it to represent the epitome of evil, fear, and malice.”  Read the extract below to gain your own opinion.

Herman Melville, 1819-1891

“Bethink thee of the albatross, whence come those clouds of spiritual wonderment and pale dread, in which that white phantom sails in all imaginations? Not Coleridge first threw that spell; but God's great, unflattering laureate, Nature.*

*I remember the first albatross I ever saw. It was during a prolonged gale, in waters hard upon the Antarctic seas.  From my forenoon watch below, I ascended to the overclouded deck; and there, dashed upon the main hatches, I saw a regal, feathery thing of unspotted whiteness, and with a hooked, Roman bill sublime.  At intervals, it arched forth its vast archangel wings, as if to embrace some holy ark.  Wondrous flutterings and throbbings shook it.  Though bodily unharmed, it uttered cries, as some king's ghost in supernatural distress.  Through its inexpressible, strange eyes, methought I peeped to secrets which took hold of God.  As Abraham before the angels, I bowed myself; the white thing was so white, its wings so wide, and in those for ever exiled waters, I had lost the miserable warping memories of traditions and of towns.  Long I gazed at that prodigy of plumage. I cannot tell, can only hint, the things that darted through me then.  But at last I awoke; and turning, asked a sailor what bird was this.  A goney, he replied.  Goney! never had heard that name before; is it conceivable that this glorious thing is utterly unknown to men ashore! never!  But some time after, I learned that goney was some seaman's name for albatross.  So that by no possibility could Coleridge's wild Rhyme have had aught to do with those mystical impressions which were mine, when I saw that bird upon our deck.  For neither had I then read the Rhyme, nor knew the bird to be an albatross.  Yet, in saying this, I do but indirectly burnish a little brighter the noble merit of the poem and the poet.

I assert, then, that in the wondrous bodily whiteness of the bird chiefly lurks the secret of the spell; a truth the more evinced in this, that by a solecism of terms there are birds called grey albatrosses; and these I have frequently seen, but never with such emotions as when I beheld the Antarctic fowl.

But how had the mystic thing been caught?  Whisper it not, and I will tell; with a treacherous hook and line, as the fowl floated on the sea.  At last the Captain made a postman of it; tying a lettered, leathern tally round its neck, with the ship's time and place; and then letting it escape.  But I doubt not, that leathern tally, meant for man, was taken off in Heaven, when the white fowl flew to join the wing-folding, the invoking, and adoring cherubim!”

With thanks to Mark Rauzon.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer. 10 December 2014

Does the Tropical Shearwater breed in Fiji?

7he BirdLife Pacific Partnership e-bulletin of 22 October reports on a Tropical Shearwater Puffinus bailloni seemingly downed by lights on Yaqaga Island, Vanua Levu, Fiji in the Pacific Ocean, the first time the species has been recorded on that island.  The species is not known to breed in Fiji.

 

Tropical Shearwater, photograph by Tim Stenton

“In July a newly-recognised seabird was found on Yaqaga Island, in the Bua Province on Vanua Levu.  The seabird, a Tropical Shearwater (Puffinus bailloni) was found hanging from a tree by a local villager.  It was the first time he had seen the bird and was clearly different from the other seabirds that he was used to seeing while fishing out at sea.  “We have been noticing the seabird for some time now right after some families had started setting up solar powered lights in their homes; it would be seen and heard flying across the village late into the evening; for almost two months until its fatal incident when it collided onto a tree branch” the local villager said.

Sialesi Rasalato BirdLife Pacific’s Technical Officer who identified the shearwater, said although, this species can be seen at sea throughout Fiji’s waters (and elsewhere in the Pacific) it is not known if it breeds in Fiji, currently the nearest known breeding colony is in Tonga.  People from the village the shearwater was found at reported that historically they knew of birds that lived in burrows on the island, but they had not been seen in recent years, Sia said.

Tropical Shearwaters occur in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  Previously considered a race of the Audubon Shearwater [P. lherminieri] they were recognised as a full species by BirdLife as recently as August this year!  They nest in small burrows and crevices on islands and while they are considered numerous particularly in the Phoenix and Line Islands (Kiribati) the species is likely in decline.  Like many of their petrel and shearwater relatives breeding sites are threatened by invasive alien species particularly rats and feral cats which are common throughout the Pacific islands.”

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 07 December 2014

An update on research on the ACAP-listed Balearic Shearwater

The latest issue of the annual journal, Sea Swallow, published by the Royal Naval Birdwatching Society, carries an article on research conducted in the northern summer of 2014 on the ACAP-listed and Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus.

The paper’s introduction follows:

“For the last eight years a dedicated team of UK scientists, conservationists and seabird enthusiasts have contributed to a programme of research and conservation focused on the Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater and other migratory seabirds.  This programme has two main components: the ‘Sea Watch SW’ project, which involved collection of land- and boat-based data from UK waters between 2007 and 2011 (see www.seawatch-sw.org), and the ongoing ‘Project Shearwater’, which involves work at Balearic shearwater breeding colonies in the Mediterranean and tracking of the birds at sea throughout the year.  For an overview of 2013 Project Shearwater activities, and links to reports from earlier years, see http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=3925.”

A Balaeric Shearwater carries a satellite tracker with its aerial visible

Photograph by Henri Weimerskirch

Reference:

Wynn, R. 2014.  Balearic Shearwater – Project Seawatch SW and Project Shearwater 2014 update.  Sea Swallow 63: 35-38.

[Note:  this publication is not as yet on-line]

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 06 December 2014

Registration for the 2nd World Seabird Conference in Cape Town October 2015 opens

Registration for the 2nd World Seabird Conference (WCS2) has now opened (click here).  The conference, with the overall theme “Seabirds: Global Ocean Sentinels” is to be held in the international conference centre in Cape Town, South Africa over 26-30 October 2015.

The early-bird registration closes on 31 May, after which the fees will go up.

Abstract submission on a “wide range of topics related to seabird ecology, biology and conservation" is also now open, with a deadline of 31 January 2015.  Due to time and space constraints, authors are only able to submit one poster and one oral abstract.

WSC2 is being hosted by the African Seabird Group and the World Seabird Union.  The Local Organizing Committee is chaired by Ross Wanless (BirdLife South Africa's Seabird Division Manager and African Seabird Group Chair).  The Scientific Programme Committee Chair is Peter Ryan (Director, FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town).

Read about facilities and opportunities in Cape Town here.

The First World Seabird Conference was held in in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada in September 2010 with over 800 registered attendees from more than 50 countries.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 13 December 2014

2nd Symposium on the Conservation of Marine and Coastal Birds in the Mediterranean to be held in Tunisia next February is expected to discuss the ACAP-listed Balearic Shearwater

The 2nd Symposium on the Conservation of Marine and Coastal Birds in the Mediterranean will take place at the Hôtel Vincci Taj 5, Hammamet, Tunisia over 20-22 February 2015.

The first symposium on the conservation of coastal and marine bird species of Annex  II of the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean (SPA/BD Protocol), took place in Vilanova i la Geltru, Spain in November 2005 (click here for the symposium’s proceedings).

The main objective of the second symposium is to review the current knowledge of the 25 marine bird taxa included in the SPA/BD Protocol and to discuss the most recent results of research and conservation work on these species.  Particular interest will be paid to conservation issues, the current projects implemented in the Mediterranean, and innovative propositions to limit the threats impacting these populations.

The Annex II list as amended in 2013 includes three shearwater species: ACAP-listed Balearic Puffinus mauretanicus, Yelkouan P. yelkouan and Scopoli’s Calonectris diomedea, as well as the European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus (which refers to the subspecies melitensis, known as the Mediterranean Storm Petrel).

Balearic Shearwater, photograph by Daniel Oro

This symposium is also intended to provide an opportunity for Mediterranean ornithologists to exchange information and experience and to provide MEDMARAVIS members the first meeting opportunity since 2010.  MEDMARAVIS is an international non-governmental association dealing with the study and conservation of coastal habitats and marine avifauna throughout the Mediterranean region that will co-partner the symposium.

With thanks to Fabrizio Borghesi, MEDMARAVIS Project Officer for information.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 04 December 2014