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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Australia’s sub-Antarctic Heard Island and McDonald Islands get a new management plan

A new Management Plan for Australia's Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve (HIMI) in the southern Indian Ocean was approved by the Federal Government at the beginning of the month, replacing the previous plan adopted in 2005 (click here).

The Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve Management Plan 2014-2024 covers 71 200 km² of terrestrial and marine areas.  The new manplan includes 6200 km² of marine waters, supporting distinct benthic habitats, species and ecosystems, which were added to the Reserve in March this year (click here).

Roger's Head, Heard Island, photporaph by Barbara Wienecke

McDonald Island on the horizon, photograph by Phil Moors

HIMI is located about 4000 km south-west of mainland Australia in the southern Indian Ocean. The islands are Australia’s largest International Union for Conservation of Nature 1a Strict Nature Reserve and home to Australia’s only active volcano, Big Ben, rising 2745 m above sea level.  The islands were inscribed on the World Heritage List in December 1997 on the basis of their outstanding natural universal values.

Heard and the McDonald Islands support populations of ACAP-listed Black-browed Thalassarche melanophris and Light-mantled Sooty Phoebetria palpebrata Albatrosses and Southern Giant Petrels Macronectes giganteus.  A single pair of Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans has attempted breeding on the island in the past.

“The first management plan for the Reserve was in effect from 24 August 2005 to 23 August 2012.  The substance of the second management plan is largely consistent with that of the first management plan.  The second management plan is, however, more attuned to the logistical constraints associated with the Reserve’s harsh environment and extreme isolation.  “Reasonableness” qualifications have therefore been applied to some of the second management plan’s objectives.”

Read a previous ACAP Latest News posting on the new HIMI manplan here.

Selected Literature:

Australian Antarctic Division 2005.  Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve Management Plan.  Kingston: Australian Antarctic Division.  198 pp.

Commonwealth of Australia 2014.  Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve Management Plan 2014-2024.  Canberra: Department of the Environment.  131 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 19 October 2014

Canada updates its assessment of the conservation status of the Short-tailed Albatross, a non-breeding visitor to its Pacific waters

In 2003 Canada’s Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC) designated the Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus which visits waters off British Columbia as Threatened.

This threatened status was re-examined and confirmed in November 2013 as set out in a recently released report that updates the original one of 2003.

The first and last paragraphs of the 2014 report’s Executive Summary follow:

“The Short-tailed Albatross is the largest North Pacific seabird and, like all albatrosses, is adapted for long-distance oceanic travel.  The species was hunted for its feathers and came close to extinction in the 1940s as a result, but is now recovering because of careful management by Japanese biologists.  Before the feather harvest, Short-tailed Albatrosses were common off the coasts of the eastern Pacific, but are now rare non-breeding visitors (immatures or adults not actively breeding) primarily to continental shelf areas off British Columbia (1-10 birds, mostly juveniles, observed each  year since 1995).

Globally, the species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.  The colony at Torishima is well protected but the Minami-kojima colony is in the hotly disputed Senkaku archipelago.  There are effective measures to reduce bycatch in U.S. and Canadian fisheries, but there seems to be little effort to protect these birds from bycatch in Japanese, Russian and international waters.  In Canada, the species is listed as Threatened on Schedule 1 of the federal Species at Risk Act.  In the U.S. the species is listed as Endangered throughout its range under the Endangered Species Act, and in Japan it is listed as a Natural Monument and a Special Bird for Protection.”

Short-tailed Albatross at sea, photograph by Aleks Terauds

The report is also available in French with the title Ếvaluation et Rapport de situation du COSEPAC sur L’Albatros à queue courte (Phoebastria albatrus) au Canada.

With thanks to Ken Morgan and Richard Phillips for information.

Reference:

COSEWIC 2013.  COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus in Canada.  Ottawa: Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.   xii + 55 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 18 October 2014

Utilizing beached Manx Shearwaters to monitor environmental health

Maíra Duarte Cardoso (Programa de Pós-Graduação em Saúde Pública e Meio Ambiente, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and colleagues have studied pollutants in the Manx shearwater Puffinus puffinus, publishing open access in the on-line journal Aquatic Biosystems.

The paper’s abstract follows:

Introduction:  Seabirds have been historically used to monitor environmental contamination. The aim of the present study was to test the suitability of a species belonging to the Procellariiformes group, the Manx shearwater, Puffinus puffinus, as a sentinel of environmental health, by determining contaminant levels (trace metals and organochlorine compounds) from carcass tissues and by isolating Vibrio spp. and Aeromonas spp. from live specimens.  To this end, 35 Puffinus puffinus carcasses wrecked on the north-central coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and two carcasses recovered in Aracruz, on the coast of the state of Espírito Santo, Brazil, were sampled, and fragments of muscle and hepatic tissues were collected for contaminant analyses.  Swabs from eleven birds found alive at the north-central coast of Rio de Janeiro were collected for isolation of the aforementioned bacteria.

Results:  The average concentration in dry weight (dw) of the trace metals were: mercury 7.19 mg kg−1 (liver) and 1.23 mg kg−1 (muscle); selenium 34.66 mg kg−1 (liver) and 7.98 mg kg−1 (muscle); cadmium 22.33 mg kg−1 (liver) and 1.11 mg kg−1 (muscle); and lead, 0.1 mg kg–1 (liver) and 0.16 mg kg−1 (muscle).  Organochlorine compounds were detected in all specimens, and hexachlorbiphenyls, heptachlorbiphenyls and DDTs presented the highest levels.  Regarding microbiological contamination, bacteria from the Vibrio genus were isolated from 91% of the analyzed specimens.  Vibrio harveyi was the predominant species. Bacteria from the Aeromonas genus were isolated from 18% of the specimens.  Aeromonas sobria was the only identified species.

Conclusions:  The results indicate that Puffinus puffinus seems to be a competent ocean health sentinel.  Therefore, the monitoring of contaminant levels and the isolation of public health interest bacteria should proceed in order to consolidate this species importance as a sentinel.”

Manx Shearwater, photograph by Nathan Fletcher

Reference:

Duarte Cardoso, M., Fulgencio de Moura, J., Tavares, D.C., Gonçalves, R.A., Colabuono, F.I., Roges, E.M, Laine de Souza, R., Dos Prazeres Rodrigues, D., Montone, R.C. & Siciliano, S. 2014.  The Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) as a candidate sentinel of Atlantic Ocean health.  Aquatic Biosystems 2014, 10:6.  http://www.aquaticbiosystems.org/content/10/1/6.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 17 October 2014

Alone in the Atlantic: at least one pair of Tristan Albatrosses continues to breed on mouse-free Inaccessible Island

 The Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena breeds only on Gough and Inaccessible islands in the United Kingdom’s Tristan da Cunha group, with the population on the main island of Tristan long extinct.

The bulk of the species’ population breeds on Gough, where many of the downy chicks die every winter following attacks by introduced House Mice Mus musculus - as has been regularly reported in ACAP Latest News (click here to read of this year’s very poor breeding season on Gough).

In recent years the population on mouse-free Inaccessible has varied from none to one pairs attempting breeding annually – way down from an estimate of some 200 pairs in the 1870s.  It is considered that no more than three pairs now breed on the island, given that the species is normally a biennial breeder when successful.  This will make it the smallest island population of any great albatross.  The next smallest population is thought to be the seven pairs of Wandering Albatrosses D. exulans that are breeding on Australia's Macquarie Island this year (click here).

The last recorded breeding attempt by a Tristan Albatross on Inaccessible Island was in 2012 when an incubating bird was photographed in March on the island’s plateau (click here).  No further visits were made that year so the outcome of the breeding attempt is not known.  It seems the plateau was not visited during the course of 2013.

Bruce Dyer (South African Department of Environmental Affairs) along with island guides Riaan Repetto and Damian Swain from the Tristan Conservation Department visited Inaccessible last month, when a single Tristan Albatross chick was located and photographed on Gony Ridge on the island's plateau on the 17th.  The large downy chick had commenced feathering and in the absence of rodents on the island it is thought likely it will fledge around year end.  No adults were present during the visit.

The 2104 Tristan Albatross chick on Inaccessible (with Tristan in the background)

Photograph by Bruce Dyer

Click here to read of breeding by a single pair of Tristan Albatrosses on Inaccessible Island in 2011.

The 2011 chick on Inaccessible, photograph by Peter Ryan

With thanks to Bruce Dyer and Peter Ryan for information and photographs.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 16 October 2014

Brown Skuas videoed stealing eggs from underneath incubating Northern Giant Petrels

Northern Giant Petrels Macronectes halli are one of the earliest breeding species on Bird Island, South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur)* with first eggs laid between 13 and 18 September 2014 in a study area which contains approximately 300 nests.  Around 60 pairs of Brown or Subantarctic Skuas Catharacta antarctica also nest in the area, being absent for the coldest months of winter, and returning in early to mid-September.  At this time the ground is often frozen and snow-covered; Gentoo Pygoscelis papua and Macaroni Eudyptes chrysolophus Penguins have yet to lay and Antarctic Fur Seals Arctocephalus gazella have not yet given birth, so there is very little terrestrial food available for skuas.

 Northern Giant Petrel, photograph by Marienne de Villiers

In recent years skuas have been seen harassing giant petrels and this spring two instances of egg theft have been caught on camera.

In the first video clip (from 23 September 2014) a pair of skuas is seen working together.  The first skua drops in behind a male giant petrel sitting tight on its egg, and tugs at its tail feathers before calling to the second bird.  As the second skua appears in front of the petrel the first skua resumes tugging on the tail. In an effort to reach its assailant the petrel stands and twists a little, giving just enough time for the second skua to snatch the egg out from under it and fly away.

The second clip (from 24 September 2014) shows a single skua jumping from side to side, tugging at a female giant petrel’s tail and wings, encouraging it to stand and climb off the nest.  This is complicated by the presence of a second giant petrel (not the partner of the incubating bird), but when he leaves the skua is able to steal the egg after dragging her away by her outstretched wing.

Although failure during incubation is not uncommon in giant petrels and albatrosses breeding on Bird Island, until this footage was recorded it was generally assumed that egg predation by skuas only occurred after the incubating adult had deserted the nest and left its egg unattended.  Despite thousands of visits to colonies over the years, active egg theft by skuas has never been seen before, which suggests it was, and perhaps still is, an unusual behaviour.  An adult giant petrel is a formidable predator, twice the mass of a Brown Skua, so trying to steal its egg carries an element of risk.  It is unknown whether this egg-stealing behaviour is a new feeding method, or, given the skill required, has always been used but only by a small number of specialised individuals.

With thanks to Andy Wood for assistance.

Jerry Gilham, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK, 15 October 2014

*A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (Islas Georgias del Sur y Islas Sandwich del Sur) and the surrounding maritime areas.