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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Marion Island’s Northern and Southern Giant Petrels divide up the spoils on land and at sea

Northern Giant Petrel with sooty albatross chick Marienne de Villiers 

A Northern Giant Petrel feeds on a Sooty Albatross chick on Marion Island, photograph by Marienne de Villiers

Ryan Reisinger (Marine Apex Predator Research Unit, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa) and colleagues have published open access in the journal Royal Society Open Science on differences in the diets and at-sea distributions of sympatrically breeding Northern Macronectes halli and Southern M. giganteus at Marion Island.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“To mediate competition, similar sympatric species are assumed to use different resources, or the same but geographically separated resources.  The two giant petrels (Macronectes spp.) are intriguing in that they are morphologically similar seabirds with overlapping diets and distributions.  To better understand the mechanisms allowing their coexistence, we investigated intra- and interspecific niche segregation at Marion Island (Southern Indian Ocean), one of the few localities where they breed in sympatry.  We used GPS tracks from 94 individuals and remote-sensed environmental data to quantify habitat use, combined with blood carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios from 90 individuals to characterize their foraging habitat and trophic ecology.  Females of both species made distant at-sea foraging trips and fed at a similar trophic level.  However, they used distinct pelagic habitats.  By contrast, males of both species mainly foraged on or near land, resulting in significant sexual segregation, but high interspecific habitat and diet overlap.  However, some males showed flexible behavioural strategies, also making distant, pelagic foraging trips.  Using contemporaneous tracking, environmental and stable isotope data we provide a clear example of how sympatric sibling species can be segregated along different foraging behaviour dimensions.”


Reisinger, R.R., Carpenter-Kling, T.,  Connan, M., Cherel, Y. & Pistorius, P.A. 2020  Foraging behaviour and habitat-use drives niche segregation in sibling seabird species. Royal Society Open Science

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 16 September 2020

Rehabilitated Newell’s Shearwater fledglings have a reduced survival compared to naturally fledged birds

Newells Shearwater release Elizabeth Ames s 

A downed Newell's Shearwater fledgling gets released, photograph by Elizabeth Ames

 André Raine (Kaua‘i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project, University of Hawai‘i & State of Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hanapepe, Hawaii, USA) and colleagues have published in the open-access journal Endangered Species Research on how well Newell’s Shearwater Puffinus newelli fledglings do after being downed by artificial lights on the Hawaiian island of Kauai and subsequently released.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Light attraction impacts nocturnally active fledgling seabirds worldwide and is a particularly acute problem on Kaua‘i (the northern-most island in the main Hawaiian Island archipelago) for the Critically Endangered Newell’s shearwater Puffinus newelli.  The Save Our Shearwaters (SOS) program was created in 1979 to address this issue and to date has recovered and released to sea more than 30500 fledglings.  Although the value of the program for animal welfare is clear, as birds cannot simply be left to die, no evaluation exists to inform post-release survival.  We used satellite transmitters to track 38 fledglings released by SOS and compared their survival rates (assessed by tag transmission duration) to those of 12 chicks that fledged naturally from the mountains of Kaua‘i.  Wild fledglings transmitted longer than SOS birds, and SOS birds with longer rehabilitation periods transmitted for a shorter duration than birds released immediately or rehabilitated for only 1 d.  Although transmitter durations from grounded fledglings were shorter (indicating impacts to survivorship), some SOS birds did survive and dispersed out to sea.  All surviving birds (wild and SOS) traveled more than 2000 km to the southwest of Kaua‘i, where they concentrated mostly in the North Pacific Equatorial Countercurrent Province, revealing a large-scale annual post-breeding aggregation zone for fledgling Newell’s shearwaters.  While there was reduced survival among birds undergoing rehabilitation, SOS remains an important contribution toward the conservation of Newell’s shearwater because a proportion of released birds do indeed survive.  However, light attraction, the root cause of fallout, remains a serious unresolved issue on Kaua’i.”


Raine, A.F., Anderson, T., Vynne, M., Driskill, S., Raine, H. & Adams, J. 2020.  Post-release survival of fallout Newell’s shearwater fledglings from a rescue and rehabilitation program on Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i.  Endangered Species Research 43: 39-50.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 15 September 2020

ACAP publishes guidelines to assess plastic ingestion by albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters


Photograph from the 1980s by Betty Anne Schreiber. Read more of her and other ingested plastic artwork and displays here

 Marcela Uhart (Latin America Program, Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, USA), Luciana Gallo and Patricia Pereira Serafini have produced advice in the ACAP Guidelines series on assessing plastic ingestion by ACAP-listed species.

“During the Ninth Meeting of the ACAP Advisory Committee (AC9), the Population and Conservation Status Working Group (PaCSWG) noted the widespread intrusion of both macro- and microplastic in the diet and environment of seabirds and expressed concern about forecasts that this will increase. … The PaCSWG agreed that ACAP could contribute to this topic through various actions.  One such action is the production of guidelines to assess the incidence of plastic ingestion in ACAP species. Thus, during PaCSWG4 and PaCSWG5 we provided a draft set of guidelines for consideration of the working group.  Comments and recommendations have been incorporated in the current revised sampling guidelines to assess plastic ingestion (macro and microplastics as well as additives and adsorbed chemical compounds) with an array of sample type choices from live and dead birds and/or their immediate environment that should facilitate collection in diverse settings.  Although we focus on albatross and petrel species, these guidelines and recommendations are generalizable to other taxa.”

The guidelines’ summary follows:

“These guidelines provide a standardized approach for sampling ACAP species to assess plastic ingestion (macro and microplastics, as well as chemical compounds) with an array of sample type choices that should enable collection in diverse settings.  Samples can be collected from dead beached or by-caught specimens, live and dead animals in breeding sites or rehabilitation centres, as well as non-invasively by sampling fresh scats from nests, regurgitated boluses or unviable or hatched eggs.  Given the particular susceptibility of ACAP species to plastic ingestion and the increasing prevalence of this problem worldwide, collecting samples to assess plastic ingestion should be considered whenever an opportunity presents.  Using standardized protocols increases the consistency and representativeness of results and allows comparisons between species and detection of large-scale spatiotemporal patterns.  Target research and surveillance options include:

1. Macroplastics (>5mm): can be assessed from stomach contents in dead birds, regurgitates in live birds, and boluses.

2. Microplastics (<5mm): can be assessed from gastrointestinal contents in dead birds, live-bird regurgitates, faeces/guano and boluses.

3. Plastic-derived chemicals (additives): can be assessed in tissues/organs (e.g. liver, muscle, fat) in dead birds, and preen gland oil, stomach oil and plastic items recovered from live and/or dead birds. Additives can also be found in hatched and/or unviable eggs.

4. Plastic-adsorbed organic contaminants (e.g. PCBs -polychlorinated biphenyls- and POCs -organochlorine pesticides-): can be assessed in plastic items found in the gastrointestinal tract of dead birds or regurgitates in live birds.

More ACAP Guidelines documents may be found here.


Uhart, M., Gallo, L. & Pereira Serafini, P. 2020.  Sampling guidelines to assess plastic ingestion in ACAP species. Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels.  21 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 14 September 2020

An ‘Evohe Albicake’ baked at sea misses the World Albatross Day Bake Off

Helen Jess Evohe cake 

Helen Fairlamb (left) and Jess Tatham with their albicake in the Evohe galley

World Albatross Day, and its Bake Off competition, are both well past but there is one more ‘albicake’ to celebrate.  Aviculturist Helen Fairlamb was meant to be on Gough Island at the time of 'WAD2020' back on 16 June – when she would have been part of a team attempting to eradicate the island's mice that month.  But the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the postponement of the Gough Island Restoration Programme (GIRP) for a year at least.  Helen was in Cape Town to travel to Gough as a passenger along with other team members on the New Zealand yacht R.S.V. Evohe in March to start catching and caring for two ‘non-target’ land birds (Gough Finch and Gough Moorhen) before the rest of the eradication team arrived.  Previously she had cared for land birds in temporary captivity during the Lord Howe Island Rodent Eradication Project.  Instead, she signed on the 25-metre yacht as a crew member “for the adventure” and spent no less than 111 days at sea, sailing from Cape Town all the way back to New Zealand.  The Evohe first sailed to Gough to pick up GIRP team members already on the island since February, made a stop at Ascension Island and then went through the Panama Canal into the Pacific and back into the southern hemisphere, so crossing the Equator twice.

Evohe cake 5 

The Evohe albicake:  nest, hatching egg, mouse and liquorice twigs

Helen has written to ACAP Latest News about baking an ‘albicake’ aboard the yacht at sea: “We spent World Albatross Day in the mid-Pacific Ocean, about two weeks south-west of the Galapagos Archipelago.  It was a squally day and we managed to collect 70 litres of tropically warm rainwater to top up our freshwater.  Whilst the cake wasn't too pretty, the context was that all baking took place aboard the Evohe in four-metre swells!  The cake is meant to be a pipping Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross chick (banana loaf iced in marzipan) on a nest (coconut sponge) with an invasive House Mouse nearby (strawberry sponge).  With the galley and all our equipment and ingredients constantly moving, it took crew member Jess Tatham and I all afternoon to make”.

With no means aboard to submit a photo of their cake, Helen’s and Jess’ effort did not get to the Bake Off judges.  A pity, as they well may have recommended a special award for baking a cake in a rough sea!  But they both will receive an entry certificate to mark their effort to help save albatrosses by raising awareness of their plight.

As well as baking, Helen and Jess kept a look-out for seabirds on the long voyage: “we were lucky enough to see 11-12 species of albatrosses during our time on Evohe.  Sea bird spots were the highlight of our trip!”

Helen is now looking for bird monitoring/research work in New Zealand but hopes finally to get to Gough if the eradication goes ahead next year as is intended.  Then she might be able to bake a giant petrel cake in time for WAD2021!

Read more about the Evohe’s long voyage here.

With thanks to Helen Fairlamb.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 11 September 2020

ACAP Small Grant project “Development of a bird-scaring line compliance monitoring device” gets underway in South Africa

 BSL Compliance Monitoring Device

 BirdLife South Africa's Reason Nyengera (right) and CapMarine’s Sayalibonga Njokweni aboard a hake trawl vessel

With funding from ACAP’s 2019 round of the Small Grants Programme, BirdLife South Africa and Imvelo Blue Environment Consultancy (IBEC) have partnered to develop a compliance monitoring device that records the mechanical tension of a deployed bird-scaring line (BSL) and converts it into an electronic signal through a process called mechatronic engineering.  The technical development has been independently undertaken in South Africa by Nelson Miranda of Argonaut Science.  A prototype, invented by IBEC founder Sihle Victor Ngcongo, has been produced that is able to record the tension or pull by the BSL every one or two seconds while simultaneously recording the time and date (click here).

The ACAP small grant is allowing for further development of the pilot device with the objectives of:
a) Refining the data collection software and adjusting its sensitivity to various deployment conditions at sea, such and weather and fluctuations in tension, as well as to potential tampering with the BSL or deployment method;
b) Capturing data through a USB port, eliminating the need to remove the device from its attachment point;
c) Tamper proofing the device and recorded data;
d) Adapting the device for ease of use on various fleets and different types of BSLs; and
e) Developing tension profiles that can be used to analyse and validate the data in the absence of an observer.
It is considered the monitoring device will be easily deployed on all types of fishing gear requiring the use of bird-scaring lines. At present assessing compliance with mitigation measures is only possible with an on-board observer. However, observer programmes are seldom able to achieve 100% observer coverage of fishing effort. The device once developed and deployed should be able to monitor BSL deployment 100% of the time in the absence of an observer. The device will thus address a concern with compliance expressed at the ACAP Advisory Committee at its 2019 meeting (AC11).

BSL Compliance Monitoring Device Reason Nyengera

A trawl vessel crew member holds the compliance monitoring device that aims to record mechanical tension of bird-scaring lines

So far there have been 13 deployments on pelagic and demersal longline and demersal trawl fleets, working out of Durban, Gansbaai, Cape Town and Saldanha Bay harbours along South Africa’s coast.  Further trials are ongoing providing information on the compliance device's effectiveness and resilience.

With thanks to Andrea Angel and Reason Nyengera, BirdLife South Africa.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 10 September 2020