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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Approaching the limit: another Short-tailed Albatross gets taken by a longliner in Alaskan waters

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the United States has reported the incidental take of a globally Vulnerable Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus in the logline fishery of the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Management Area (BSAI).  The bird was taken on 16 December 2014.

The albatross take was not reported to the NMFS observer on the vessel, nor was the bird retained by the vessel crew.  The bird was later identified by NMFS as a Short-tailed Albatross with the assistance of seabird experts who reviewed video of the bird taken onboard the vessel. The last two documented Short-tailed Albatross fatalities from a longline fishing vessel were recorded in Alaskan waters in September 2014 (click here).

Short-tailed Albatrosses gather off the Aleutians, photograph by Rob Suryan

“The short-tailed albatross is protected in Alaska waters by the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  As a result of consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the ESA, USFWS issued an incidental take statement of four birds during each two-year period for the BSAI and Gulf of Alaska (GOA) hook and-line groundfish fisheries. In instances where the amount or extent of incidental take is exceeded, reinitiation of formal ESA consultation is required.  This is the third take in the two-year period that began on September 16, 2013. To-date, the incidental take levels have not been reached during the current or any previous Biological Opinions.

The NMFS Alaska Regional Office, NMFS North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program, and the USFWS are actively coordinating efforts and communicating with each other in response to this take incident and are complying to the fullest extent with ESA requirements to protect this species.  NMFS is also working closely with the freezer longline fleet in which the bird was taken, to evaluate what additional actions can be taken by the fleet to avoid further takes.  To assist in this coordinated effort, NMFS reminds operators of hook-and-line vessels in the BSAI and GOA that they are required to employ multiple seabird avoidance measures.  NMFS encourages vessel operators to consider not deploying gear amidst congregations of endangered birds; if possible, move on to a location where you don’t see the short-tailed albatross.

Ed Melvin, a seabird mitigation gear researcher and specialist from Washington Sea Grant, reiterated that in order to keep birds from baited hooks in windy conditions that the streamer line on the windward side should be maintained to windward of the groundline and with a minimum of 200 feet of the line with streamers in the air. This configuration can be achieved by maintaining sufficient drag using a skid buoy with a 10-pound weight fixed at the nose of the buoy. It is this aerial extent of the streamer line with streamers attached that scares birds. The use of round buoys for this purpose should be avoided, as their position astern can be erratic. Also, individual streamers should be long enough to extend to the water. Given that all vessels are different, he recommends that each vessel purchase extra tubing to adjust streamer length as necessary and to make repairs if streamers are damaged. Each crew should have one person in the setting crew responsible for bird avoidance. Additionally, when short-tailed albatross are around the vessel, an additional crew member at the roller may be helpful. NOAA Fisheries also reminds vessel operators that when an observer is on-board, any short-tailed albatross caught by hook-and-line gear be retained and reported immediately to the NMFS observer.” (click here).

Click here for detailed information on seabird avoidance measures in US longline fisheries.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 27 May 2015

1500 (or so) pairs of Salvin’s Albatrosses on the Snares: efficacy of an aerial survey gets tested

Barry Baker (Latitude 42 Environmental Consultants) and colleagues have produced a report for the Conservation Services Programme of New Zealand's Department of Conservation on the results of an aerial survey of Salvin’s Albatross Thalassarche salvini on the Western Chain, Snares Islands (click here).

The report’s Executive Summary follows:

“Salvin’s albatrosses Thalassarche salvini is an abundant albatross species in New Zealand, breeding mainly on the Bounty Islands and the Western Chain of The Snares.  The species roams widely in winter, moving eastwards across the South Pacific to the waters off the west coast of South America.  In September 2014 we completed an aerial survey of the Western Chain, The Snares, and photographed all albatross colonies we observed.  Salvin’s albatross was breeding on two (Rima and Toru) of the five islets in the Western Chain archipelago.  The photographs were used to compile photo-montages of each colony, and these images were used to count birds on each islet.  Ground counts of nesting Salvin’s albatrosses were also undertaken on Toru Islet on the day that aerial photography was undertaken.  We estimated the total number of Salvin’s albatrosses ashore in the Western Chain in 17 September 2014 to be 2,307 (95% CI 2,211 — 2,403. Of these, 675 (CI 623 — 727) were on Rima Islet, and 1,632 (CI 1,551 — 1,713) were on Toru Islet.  Ground counts at Toru Islet showed that of 171 birds ashore, 100 (58.5%) were incubating, 14 (8.2 %) were on empty nests, and 57 (33.3 %) were loafing.  ‘Close up’ photographs taken using a large telephoto lens to assess the proportion of breeding and loafing birds were not useful for this purpose because we were unable to determine if most of the birds visible were clearly associated with a nest.  Raw counts of birds ashore were adjusted to account for the presence of loafers.  This provided an estimate of 1,486 (95% CI 1,409 — 1,563) annual breeding pairs in 2014/15, which was 32% higher than the ground counts undertaken on the same day of the aerial survey.  Aerial survey proved to be an effective method of rapidly assessing the population size of Salvin’s albatross in the Western Chain, The Snares.  Despite the difference between the aerial and ground counts, it should not be assumed at this stage that one survey methodology is more accurate than the other, as there is potential for error using both methods.  The use of close up aerial photographs has proven useful in correcting raw counts to estimate the number of annual nesting pairs at other albatross colonies, but their utility for this purpose at the Western Chain, would appear to be limited.  Ground counts indicated the proportion of loafing birds in colonies (33.3%) was high, but consistent with that observed at the Bounty Islands (25.8%) in 2013.  These values exceed those previously recorded for other Thalassarche albatrosses during the early to mid-incubation period, but may be normal for Salvin’s albatross because of the nature of their nesting sites where egg loss appears to be very high.  The cause of many nest failures appeared to be a combination of the lack of substrate with which to construct a nest, and interference from birds attending the colony. If population size (annual breeding pairs) is to be regularly estimated using aerial photography, it would appear more appropriate to use the correction factor derived by the 2014 ground count to adjust raw counts each year, noting that this correction factor will likely be dependent on the time of the breeding season that the count is undertaken.  Further ground-truthing undertaken concurrently with aerial photography would be of use to refine the correction factor.  Alternatively, aerial photography could be used to simply assess the number of birds ashore and use this as an index of abundance to assess population trend over time.”

 

Salvin's Albatross on the Snares, photograph by Paul Sagar

With thanks to Barry Baker.

Reference:

Baker, B.G., Jensz, K., Sagar, P. 2015.  2014 Aerial survey of Salvin's albatross at The Snares, Western Chain.  Final Report prepared for Department of Conservation Project POP2014-02 Objective 2A [Kettering]: Latitude 42 Environmental Consultants Pty Ltd.  9 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 26 May 2015

On the EDGE: funding opportunities for conserving evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered species

The EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) of Existence programme of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) highlights and conserves one-of–a-kind species that are on the verge of extinction.  The EDGE Fellowship Programme aims to provide structured training to early-career conservation biologists to undertake an applied research or conservation project on a local EDGE species.

In addition to receiving a grant of up to UK£ 8000, EDGE Fellows attend two regional training courses, undertake online modules in relevant topics and receive one-to-one support from a scientific advisor based at ZSL or a partner organisation.  Applications are now open with a deadline of 15 June 2015 (click here).

Applicants must focus their work on a 100 EDGE species, be an early-career conservation biologist or wildlife manager (less than 10 years’ experience) and be a national and resident of the country in which the proposed focal species occurs.  Priority will be given to projects focusing on EDGE species where limited research has been done and/or that currently receive little or no conservation attention.

Seven procellariiform seabirds are included on the top 100 bird list for 2015, including the Critically Endangered and ACAP-listed Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata.  The other six species are Jamaica Petrel Pterodroma caribbaea, Beck’s Petrel Pseudobulweria becki, Peruvian Diving Petrel Pelecanoides garnotii (a potential candidate species for ACAP listing), Ashy Storm Petrel Oceanodroma homochroa, New Zealand Storm Petrel Oceanites maorianus and White-throated Storm Petrel Nesofregetta fuliginosa – all globally Endangered or Critically Endangered species.

 

Waved Albatross, photograph by Kate Huyvaert

Successful applicants will be informed by the end of August 2015.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 25 May 2015

Wedge-tailed Shearwaters on the Great Barrier Reef forage outside the marine park in the Coral Sea

Fiona McDuie (Centre for Tropical Environmental & Sustainability Sciences & College of Marine & Environmental Science, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia) and colleagues have published in the open-access journal Marine Ornithology on foraging patterns of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus breeding in Australia.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“To determine whether breeding tropical shearwaters use “at-distance” locations during the long-trip phase of their bimodal foraging cycle, we deployed PTT satellite tracking devices on adult Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Ardenna pacifica of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Australia, over three breeding seasons.  During the long-trip phase (8–14 d), a component of a bimodal pattern of foraging not seen previously in a tropical shearwater, birds travelled to distant sites in the Coral Sea between 300 and 1100 km from the breeding colony, primarily to the north and east.  At-distance foraging sites were in deeper water and closer to seamounts than were near-colony foraging sites used for chick provisioning, a combination of features indicating enhanced prey availability at these at-distance locations.  These findings imply that long-term reproductive success at this and likely other GBR colonies is strongly dependent on the continued stability of these at-distance locations, yet at present all are outside the current Great Barrier Reef Marine Park management zone.  To adequately conserve GBR seabirds and other marine species using these resources, a conservation strategy integrated with current management practices is needed for the open waters of the Coral Sea.”

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, photograph by Alan Burger

Reference:

McDuie, F., Weeks, S.J., Miller, M.G.R. & Congdon, B.C. 2015.  Breeding tropical shearwaters use distant foraging sites when self-provisioning.  Marine Ornithology 43: 123-129.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 24 May 2015

For the birds? Fellowship opportunities in the Southern Ocean

There are just two weeks remaining to the deadline for applications for the 2015 SCAR (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research) and COMNAP (Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs fellowship Schemes.  SCAR and COMNAP fellowships are worth up to US$ 15 000 each and up to six fellowships in total are on offer for 2015.  The fellowships enable early career researchers to join a project team from another country, opening up new opportunities and often creating research partnerships that last many years and over many Antarctic research seasons. The deadline for applications is 3 June 2015.

For more information on SCAR and COMNAP Fellowships, visit the SCAR or COMNAP websites.

Sooty Albatross, photograph by Ross Wanless

The SCAR and COMNAP schemes have again been launched in conjunction with CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) Scientific Scholarship Scheme, which provides funding of up to AU$ 30 000 to assist early career scientists to participate in the work of the CCAMLR Scientific Committee and its working groups over a period of two years.  The scheme was established in 2010 and a maximum of three awards will be made in 2015.  The objective of the scheme is to build capacity within the CCAMLR scientific community to help generate and sustain the scientific expertise needed to support the work of CCAMLR in the long-term. The deadline for CCAMLR applications is 1 October 2015.  For more information, visit the CCAMLR website.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 23 May 2015

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