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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Lasers are being used to keep Newell’s Shearwaters away from power lines on Kauai

The Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project (KESRP) has turned to lasers in an effort to halt Endangered Newell’s Shearwaters Puffinus newelli from flying into power lines at night.  A shortened version of KERSP’s news report follows.

““We have power lines that go all around the island and the birds … obviously have trouble seeing them because the lines stretch across the fly paths,” said KERSP’s Andre Raine.

The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative and Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project came up with a plan. They installed 30 lasers on utility poles in ‘Ele’ele which creates what they call a light fence. “So we are firing the lasers in front of the lines and the idea is make the lines more visible,” said Raine.  After more than year of positive results the laser experiment will continue. Starting this month new lasers will be installed and testing will run through December.

The biologists observed birds flying above the light fence to avoid it, but it is too soon to tell if the experiment is a success, so that is why [they] are continuing the project.  The lasers run parallel to the ground and pose no threat to aircraft or people.  In addition to the lasers, the groups will be installing bird diverters, known as firefly units.  The devices hang from the power lines and have reflectors and glow in the dark features that make them visible to birds in low light conditions. The lasers are also meant to keep other endangered seabirds safe as well.”

Newell's Shearwater, photograph by Eric Vanderwerf

The KESRP is a Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) project, administered through the Pacific Studies Co-operative Unit of the University of Hawai’i.  Formed in 2006, the project focuses primarily on three threatened seabirds found on the island of Kauai – Newell’s Shearwater, Hawaiian Petrel Pterodroma sandwichensis and Band-rumped Storm Petrel Oceanodroma castro.  Work involves identifying the breeding distribution of these rare seabirds, monitoring their breeding colonies, undertaking research projects to better understand their life histories and the various threats which they face, and working with partner projects and organizations to ensure their long-term conservation.

Read earlier news items on Newell’s Shearwater in ACAP Latest News including on its status as a full species.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 21 August 2015

ACAP Breeding Site No. 80. Kidney Island supports White-chinned Petrels and shearwaters

Kidney Island lies 0.5 km off Kidney Cove in East Falkland in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)*.  The 32-ha island (Isla Celebroña in Spanish) rises to 18 m and is almost completely covered in dense stands of Tussac Grass Parodiochloa flabellata.  The coastline consists of boulder beaches, cliffs and a sandy bay.


Tussock-covered Kidney Island, photograph by Sarah Crofts

Field hut among the tussock on Kidney Island, photograph by Sarah Crofts

Kidney Island's sandy bay (with seal and human), photograph by Sarah Crofts

Boulder beach at a White-chin breeding area on Kidney Island, note the person on the left for scale, photograph by Sarah Crofts

Southern Rockhopper Penguin cliff on Kidney Island, photograph by Stephen Pringle 

ACAP-listed White-chinned Petrels Procellaria aequinoctialis breed on the island in two areas.  During summer 2005, 23 occupied burrows were found; 27 occupied burrows were located in 2006.  Larger numbers (“a few hundred pairs”) have been reported breeding in the past and a 1992 estimate of “up to 1,000 pairs” appears in the literature.  Whether this information reflects a real decrease appears uncertain, given the lack of systematic surveys in the past.  A total of 123 White-chins, two banded, was found dead from unknown causes along the island’s shoreline in October 2000 (click here).

White-chinned Petrels in the South Atlantic, photograph by Ben Phalan 

Large numbers of Sooty Shearwaters Puffinus griseus, a few Great Shearwaters P. gravis (the only known breeding site in the island group) and Grey-backed Storm Petrels Garrodia nereis breed on the island, as has the Common Diving Petrel Pelecanoides urinatrix in the past.

Sooty Shearwaters gather off Kidney Island at dusk, photograph by Anton Wolfaardt

The sandy bay on Kidney Island, photograph by Paulo Catry

The island is protected as a National Nature Reserve designated in 1964.  Along with nearby Cochin Island, it is also an Important Bird Area (IBA) designated by BirdLife International (click here).  Landings with a guide following a half-hour boat journey from Stanley are allowed under permit. A small hut nestles within the tussock. It has no introduced mammal pests and has never supported grazing animals, although in the past tussac was cut for fodder.

Read of a 2012 visit to the island here.

White-chinned Petrels are known to breed at only three other localities in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)*: Bottom, New and Top Islands.

With thanks to Neil Anders, Paulo Catry, Sam Cockwell, Sarah Crofts, Farrah Peck, Richard Phillips, Stephen Pringle, Kalinka Rexer-Huber and Anton Wolfaardt for photographs and information.

Selected Literature:

[Falklands Conservation] 2006.  Important Bird Areas of the Falkland Islands.  London: Falklands Conservation.  160 pp.

Reid, T.A., Lecoq, M. & Catry, P. 2007.  The White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis population of the Falkland Islands.  Marine Ornithology 35: 57-60.

Wolfaardt, A.[C.], Rendell, N. & Brickle, P. 2010.  Falkland Islands Implementation Plan for the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP): Review of Current Work and a Prioritised Work Programme for the Future.  Stanley: Falkland Islands Government.  57 pp.

Woods, R.W & Woods, A, 1997.  Atlas of the Breeding Birds of the Falkland Islands. Oswestry; Anthony Nelson.  190 pp.

Woods, R., Ingham, R. & Brown, A. 2006.  Falkland Islands.  In: Sanders, S. (Ed.).  Important Bird Areas in the United Kingdom Overseas Territories.  Sandy: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.  pp. 99-162.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 20 August 2015

*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.

A portrait of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

I continue here with the occasional series of stories in ACAP Latest News that covers the appearance of albatrosses and petrels in art and literature.  This time we revisit a famous poem that led to the word albatross being used metaphorically “to mean a psychological burden that feels like a curse” (click here).

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (21 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) written over 1797–1798 is probably the most-well-known poem that includes an albatross with its central theme.

During a recent visit to the United Kingdom’s National Portrait Gallery in London I came across an oil-on-canvas painting dated 1795 (when Coleridge was 22 or 23) by the Dutch artist Peter Vandyke (1729-1799).


Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the National Portrait Gallery

Coleridge wrote his famous poem near Watchet in the UK’s Somerset where he is commemorated by a statue of the albatross-bedecked mariner on the harbour side that was unveiled in September 2003.  It is said that Coleridge was influenced by the sight of the town to write his Rime (click here).


The Somerset Mariner statue, Watchet, Somerset, UK by sculptor Alan Herriot

The cottage that Coleridge rented nearby where he wrote both the Rime and his equally famous poem Kubla Khan is now a National Trust property open to the public (click here).


Coleridge Cottage, in Nether Stowey, Somerset, UK

I tip my hat to a man who also wrote these beautiful lines:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

- written after an opium-drugged dream in 1797 but not published until 1816.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 18 August 2015

Foraging strategies of Laysan Albatrosses inferred from stable isotopes

Ann Edwards (Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Seattle, Washington, USA) and colleagues have published open-access and online in the journal PLoS ONE on the foraging strategies of Laysan Albatrosses Phoebastria immutabilis in relation to fisheries as deduced from stable isotope analyses.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Fatal entanglement in fishing gear is the leading cause of population decline for albatross globally, a consequence of attraction to bait and fishery discards of commercial fishing operations.  We investigated foraging strategies of Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis), as inferred from nitrogen and carbon isotope values of primary feathers, to determine breeding-related, seasonal, and historic factors that may affect the likelihood of association with Alaskan or Hawaiian longline fisheries.  Feather samples were collected from live birds monitored for breeding status and breeding success on Midway Atoll in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, birds salvaged as fisheries-bycatch, and birds added to museum collections before 1924.  During the chick-rearing season (sampled April-May), means and variances of stable isotope values of birds with the highest, most consistent reproductive success were distinct from less productive conspecifics and completely different from birds caught in Hawaiian or Alaskan longline fisheries, suggesting birds with higher multi-annual reproductive success were less likely to associate with these fisheries.  Contemporary birds with the highest reproductive success had mean values most similar to historic birds.  Values of colony-bound, courting prebreeders were similar to active breeders but distinct from prebreeders caught in Alaskan longline fisheries.  During the breeding season, δ15N values were highly variable for both contemporary and historic birds.  Although some historic birds exhibited extremely low δ15N values unmatched by contemporary birds (< 11.2‰), others had values as high as the highest fishery-associated contemporary birds.  During the non-breeding season (sampled July-September), isotopic variability coalesced into a more narrow set of values for both contemporary and historic birds.  Our results suggest that foraging strategies of Laysan albatross are a complex function of season, breeding status, and multi-annual breeding success, factors that likely affect the probability of association with fisheries.


Laysan Albatross, photograph by James Lloyd


Edwards, A.E., Fitzgerald, S.M., Parrish, J.K., Klavitter, J.L. & Marc D. Romano, M.D. 2015.  Foraging strategies of Laysan Albatross inferred from stable isotopes: implications for association with fisheries.  PLoS ONE  10(7): e0133471.  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0133471.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 18 August 2015

How to handle a breeding Westland Petrel: the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa explains

“The last vestiges of light are fading over Paparoa National Park, Westland in the South Island of New Zealand.  As the skies darken, a magnificent silhouette can be seen soaring above a small group of scientists.  Soon one silhouette becomes many and within fifteen minutes of the first sighting, birds begin to plummet down into the bush, hitting the ground with a disarming crash.  There ensues a cacophony of sound as birds call to their nesting partners, or perhaps to each other – a wild kind of party on the forest floor in this remote part of the country.”

Kate Whitley of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa explains in her illustrated on-line account how to extract an ACAP-listed and Vulnerable Westland Petrel Procellaria westlandica from its burrow at the species’ only breeding site.  A burrowscope is first used to check for presence, the birds are then carefully removed (with gloves!) so that previously fitted GPS loggers can be downloaded of the birds' at-sea movements.


Westland Petrel, photograph by Susan Waugh

“The local community [is] embracing the fact that they have a unique Petrel colony on their doorstep, and this year launched the inaugural ‘Return of the Westland Petrel’ festival.  The highlight of the festival was a beach parade where locals could witness the birds soaring in overhead on their return to the nesting site.”

One of the May festival’s highlights was also the unveiling of a huge model petrel in a tree above the entertainment stage (click here).

Click here for the whole article by Kate.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 17 August 2015