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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Northern Royal Albatrosses return to breed in numbers on New Zealand’s mainland at Taiaroa Head

Taiaroa Head, at the end of the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin in New Zealand’s South Island is one of the very few places in the World where the general public can view breeding albatrosses without the need of joining a sea-going expedition.  Globally Endangered Northern Royal Albatrosses Diomedea sanfordi have bred at Taiaroa Head, now a nature reserve, since 1938 and it is has become a major tourist attraction.  Over the years the population has increased, with 24 chicks successfully fledging last season out of 26 eggs laid (click here).

A Northern Royal  Albatross guards its downy chick at Taiaroa Head, photograph by Lyndon Perriman

The birds are now returning for the new 2014/15 breeding season.  Since the end of September 104 individuals have been spotted and so far 32 nest sites with eggs established, eight more than the previous season, but less than the 36 eggs laid over 2012/13 (click here).

The Royal Albatross Centre is operated by the Otago Peninsula Trust and the Department of Conservation.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 01 December 2014

Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwaters are killed by Portuguese purse seines and set nets

Nuno Oliveira (Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves - SPEA, Portugal) and colleagues have published open access in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation on seabird bycatch in Portuguese fisheries.  ACAP-listed and Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwaters Puffinus mauretanicus (31 out of 68 birds reported) were killed by purse seines and set nets, although not reported by longlines - as in other parts of the bird’s at-sea range.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Competition with fisheries and incidental capture in fishing gear are the major current threats for seabirds at sea.  Fishing is a traditional activity in Portugal and is mainly composed of a great number of small vessels.  Given the lack of knowledge on effects of the Portuguese fishing fleet on seabird populations, bycatch was assessed in mainland coastal waters for 2010–2012.  Interviews and on-board data were divided into 5 strata, according to fishing gear: Bottom trawling, Bottom longline, Purse seine, Beach seine, Polyvalent (≥12 m) and Polyvalent (<12 m).  Polyvalent included Setnets, Traps and Demersal longlines.  Overall, 68 birds were recorded to be bycaught.  The average catch per unit effort (CPUE) was 0.05 birds per fishing event.  Polyvalent (<12 m), Polyvalent (≥12 m) and Purse seiners had the biggest seabird bycatch rates, with 0.5 (CPUE = 0.1), 0.11 (CPUE = 0.05) and 0.2 (CPUE = 0.11) birds per trip, respectively.  Within Polyvalent gear, Setnets captured the largest diversity of seabird species (CPUE = 0.06), while Demersal longline had the highest CPUE (0.86).  Northern gannet was the most common bycaught species.  Although more observation effort is required, our results suggest that substantial numbers of Balearic shearwater might be bycaught annually, mainly in Purse seine and Setnets.”


Balearic Shearwater at sea


Oliveira, N., Henriques, A., Miodonski, J., Pereira, J., Marujo, D., Almeida, A., Barros, N., Andrade, J., Marçalo, A., Santos, J., Benta Oliveira, I., Ferreira, M., Araújo, H., Monteiro, S., Vingada, J. & Ramírez, I. 2015.  Seabird bycatch in Portuguese mainland coastal fisheries: An assessment through on-board observations and fishermen interviews.  Global Ecology and Conservation 3: 51-61.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 30 November 2014

Sixty-something Wisdom the Laysan Albatross returns to Midway for yet another breeding season

Wisdom, the World’s oldest-known Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis, now considered to be at least 64 years old and first banded as an adult in 1956, was sighted preening her mate (band number G000) on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge on 22 November.  Her colour band Red Z333 was viewed by Deputy Refuge Manager Bret Wolfe - who used a telephoto lens at a distance to avoid overly disturbing the pair.  Wisdom's mate had been waiting close to the pair's former nest site since 19 November.  It is typical for male Laysan Albatrosses to arrive first at the nest site.  By the 23rd Wisdom had left for sea (click here).

Wisdom on the left preens her mate, photograph by Bret Wolfe/USFWS

“The breeding [Laysan] albatrosses, both male and female, typically return to sea shortly after mating.  After about 5-10 days, the female will return and lay a single egg in a bowl-like nest made from sand and grass.  The males will return shortly thereafter, though some may remain to guard the nest site while the female is away.  Although it's not set in stone that they will successfully breed and raise a chick in any given year, this pair has successfully bred in each of the last seven years.”

To read more ACAP news items about the exploits of Wisdom, and of the children’s book, mascot, poem, Facebook page and artwork she has inspired click here.

Laysan Albatrosses have already started laying on the main Hawaiian Islands, with the first eggs spotted on the 21st.

Meanwhile on Midway’s Eastern Island the male Short-tailed Albatross P. albatrus arrived at the end of October and is waiting for its partner.  The pair has bred successfuly three times in the last four years (click here).

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 29 November 2014

Tracing Flesh-footed Shearwaters killed by fisheries to their breeding colonies via feather trace metal analysis

Jenn Lavers (Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia) and colleagues published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series last year on using feather analyses of from Flesh-footed Shearwaters Puffinus carneipes killed at sea to trace their breeding sites.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“An emerging issue in seabird conservation is the ability to link at-sea mortality with observed demographic changes at breeding colonies.  Applications of modelling and biochemical markers can be used to assign mortalities of unknown provenance to a colony of origin ensuring conservation actions are targeted at those colonies identified as the most affected.  We analysed feathers (n = 120) from flesh-footed shearwater Puffinus carneipes collected from 5 breeding colonies throughout their range.  Using stable isotopes (δ15N and δ13C) and trace element concentrations (Mn, Ni, Cu, Mo, Ag, Ba, Pb), we assigned birds recovered from fishing vessels off Australia, New Zealand, and the North Pacific to colony of origin, and investigated the rate of correct assignment at 3 spatial scales.  Using quadratic discriminant analysis, samples of known origin were correctly assigned to basin, region, and breeding colonies at similar rates (92.3, 81.3, and 88.1%, respectively).  Stable isotopes succeeded in assigning individuals among basins (72.8%), performing less well at the region and colony level (52.5 and 36.4%, respectively).  In contrast, correct assignment was consistent at all 3 scales using only trace elements (93.2, 95.7, and 96.6%, respectively).  Applying our final model based on trace elements to 116 flesh-footed shearwaters taken as bycatch in eastern Australia (n = 30), Western Australia (n = 32), New Zealand (n = 16), eastern North Pacific (n = 27) and western North Pacific (n = 11), we assigned individuals to colonies in New Zealand (35.3%), Western/South Australia (36.2%), Western Australia (27.6%), and Lord Howe Island (0.9%).  Bycatch in fisheries may help explain ongoing declines in flesh-footed shearwater populations across the species’ range, highlighting the utility of assignment tools to account for unobservable mortality of wildlife at-sea.”

Flesh-footed Shearwater at sea, photograph by Tim Reid


Lavers, J.L., Bond, A.L., Van Wilgenburg, S.L. & Hobson, K.A. 2013.  Linking at-sea mortality of a pelagic shearwater to breeding colonies of origin using geochemical markers.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 491: 265-275.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 28 November 2014

Healthy Short-tailed Shearwater chicks contain plastic particles

Hannah Cousin and colleagues have written on ingestion of plastics by Short-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus tenuirostris, now in press with the journal Emu – Austral Ornithology.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“In recent years, there has been increased reporting of marine plastic debris ingestion in seabirds.  Our aim was to assess the frequency and impacts of ingested plastic debris in pre-fledging chicks of the Short-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris) in Tasmania.  We necropsied 171 chicks confiscated after illegal poaching to determine presence or absence of plastic debris in the proventriculus and ventriculus, and examined whether there was a correlation between body condition (as estimated based upon body mass and fat scores) and quantity of plastic ingested (by count and weight of items).  We found 1032 plastic particles were ingested, comprised of both industrial (31%) and user plastic (69%).  Most of the shearwaters (96%) contained plastic debris with an average of 148.1 mg (± s.e. 8.1 mg) per bird.  Most plastic was found in the ventriculus.  Light coloured plastic pieces dominated (63.76%), followed by medium and dark coloured (22.09% and 14.15%, respectively).  We found that total ingested plastic mass was not significantly related to body condition, fat scores or mass.  Our paper highlights the prevalence of plastic pollution in healthy shearwater chicks and underscores concern regarding the impacts of increasing marine pollution on a global scale.”

Short-tailed Shearwater at sea, photograph by Kirk Zufelt


Cousin, H., Auman, H., Alderman, R. & Virtue, P. in press.  The frequency of ingested plastic debris and impacts on body condition in Short-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris) pre-fledging chicks in Tasmania, Australia.  Emu.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 27 November 2014