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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Black-browed Albatrosses can remember where they encountered fishing vessels

 Black browed Albatross following boat by Graham Robertson

Black-browed Albatrosses gather behind a fishing vessel, photograph by Graham Robertson

Julien Collett and Henri Weimerskirch (Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Université de la Rochelle, Villiers-en-Bois, France) have published open access in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences on the ability of Black-browed Albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris to memorize where they encountered vessels across consecutive foraging trips from Kerguelen.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Human activities generate food attracting many animals worldwide, causing major conservation issues. The spatio-temporal predictability of anthropogenic resources could reduce search costs for animals and mediate their attractiveness. We investigated this through GPS tracking in breeding black-browed albatrosses attracted to fishing boats. We tested for answers to the following questions. (i) Can future boat locations be anticipated from cues available to birds? (ii) Are birds able to appropriately use these cues to increase encounters? (iii) How frequently do birds use these cues? Boats were spatially persistent: birds searching in the direction where they previously attended boats would encounter twice as many boats compared with following a random direction strategy. A large proportion of birds did not use this cue: across pairs of consecutive trips (n = 85), 51% of birds switched their foraging direction irrespective of previous boat encounters. Still, 15 birds (27%) were observed to closely approach (approx. 0.1–1 km) where they previously attended a boat while boats were no longer there. This is less than the distance expected by chance (approx. 10–100 km), based on permutation control procedures accounting for individual-specific spatial consistency, suggesting individuals could memorize where they encountered boats across consecutive trips. We conclude albatrosses were able to exploit predictive cues from recent boat encounters but most favoured alternative resources.”


Collet, J. & Weimerskirch, H. 2020.  Albatrosses can memorize locations of predictable fishing boats but favour natural foraging.  Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences 287.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 24 August 2020

In need of a new fence: Kīlauea Point’s Laysan Albatrosses have a 38% breeding success in 2019/20

Kilauea Point Laysan lighthouse Jacqueline Olivera 

A Kilauea Point Laysan Albatross, lighthouse in the background, photograph by Jacqueline Olivera

The Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on the Hawaiian island of Kauai was established to preserve and enhance seabird breeding colonies, including the Laysan Albatross or Mōlī Phoebastria immutabilis (click here).  The Kīlauea Point NWR supported a total of 116 pairs of Laysan Albatrosses in the 2019/20 breeding season according to a Facebook post dated 17 April.  “Of those, 31 nests failed to hatch (broken, missing, etc.), 14 failed to hatch (but were incubated to full term), and 71 successfully hatched” (giving a hatching success of 61.2%).  “Of these 71, 19 chicks are missing or depredated (suspect feral cat [click here], feral pig, or owl) and 52 were alive and being fed by parents, although some chicks seemed very small and thin for their age”.

Kilauea Point Laysan downy chick Jacqueline Olivera

A downy Kilauea Point Laysan Albatross chick, photograph by Jacqueline Olivera

Following an enquiry at the time, the KNWR replied “the birds are protected by a fence that keeps out dogs and pigs.  Though, as you know, pigs are a persistent beast all their own and are still a concern which is why we actively conduct predator control for them if they breach our fence lines”.  A later report by USFWS Biologist Kim Uyehara, states “We … have an old fence, which feral pigs regularly breach and feral cats easily climb over.  We look forward to a new mammal-proof fence within the next few years”.  It is further reported that ground wortk fior the new fence will commence next year.

Kilauea Laysan fence Louise Barnfield

A Kilauea Point Laysan Albatross chick approaching fledging against the current pig-proof fence - that will not keep out feral cats, photograph by Louise Barnfield

The August 2020 edition of Wild Times, the newsletter of Friends of Kauaʻi Wildlife Refuges, reports “Laysan albatross (mōlī) fledging success rates at Kīlauea Point NWR this year are much lower than usual with only 36 chicks fledging out of 115 nests [within the fence*].  Low fledging success may be linked to decreased invasive species management capability as a result of staff shortages, reduced capabilities during the COVID-19 closure and challenges with extensive staff time needing to be devoted to avian botulism outbreaks at Hanalei NWR.”

However, an update received from Louise Barnfield, KPNWR volunteer who surveys the albatross colony, includes late fledging chicks to give a total of 44.  Overall breeding success for the 2019/20 season was thus 37.9% (with a fledging success of 44/71 or 62.0%). The chicks were not banded prior to fledging.  In the previous season (2018/19) 121 active nests were counted in December 2018.

*Note that one of the 116 nests in 2019/20 was just outside the existing fence.

With thanks to Louise Barnfield, KPNWR volunteer.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 21 August 2020, updated 02 September 2020

Leaving home in the COVID-19 era? Don’t forget your albimask!

 Oikonos with albimasks 

A team from Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge model the Hawaiian Laysan Albatross face mask

Albimasks Pacific Rim Conservation Rachel Sprague

Masks - and an albatross bandana - worn by seabird researchers on Lānaʻi, Hawaii; photograph by Rachel Sprague

Wearing a face mask in this time of a global pandemic is medically advised, including by the World Health Organization “as part of a comprehensive strategy” of protection against the coronavirus.  Although seemingly controversial in some parts of the world, the “follow the science” approach of the WHO advocates mask use when in close company and enclosed spaces, and, of course, wherever mandated.  Working with albatrosses and other seabirds in the field has led to the wearing of face coverings (and practicing social distancing) in some localities, as above and as illustrated previously in ACAP Latest News in Hawaii.  Supporters of albatross conservation can now equip themselves with suitable protection as two artists, in Brazil and in Hawaii, have stepped up to bring their own designs of cloth ‘albimasks’ to the public.

Kiittys albimask 2

"All for One, One for All - ALBATROSS": Kitty Harvill's albatross art on a facemask

Kitty Harvill, a resident of Curitiba, Brazil, a co-founder of Artists & Biologists for Nature (ABUN) painted all 22 albatross species in support of World Albatross Day.  Her work entitled "All for One, One for All - ALBATROSS" is freely available for downloading from this website as a poster suitable for mounting.  It is now available for purchase on clothing and other items though the on-line supplier Zazzle.  Following a suggestion from the ACAP Information Officer Kitty’s artwork has now been printed on a cloth face mask.

Hawaii mask 

A model wears the  Ilana Nimz mask

From Hawaii comes another ‘albimask’ by artist and marine biologist Ilana Nimz (‘Nimzoid’) with a design entitled “Laysan Albatrosses and endangered native Hawaiian plant 'ohai”.  As for the Brazilian design, the Hawaii version is also available on clothing and items such a coffee mug.  They are stated to have been produced in support of Black-footed and Laysan Albatross habitat restoration on Kure Atoll in the Hawaiian North-western Islands.

+Hawaii mask 1a

“Laysan Albatrosses and endangered native Hawaiian plant 'ohai”

So, no excuse now for not wearing an albatross mask the next time face covering is required or recommended.

NOTE:   Cloth face masks are for use by the general public only and are not intended for use in medical settings. They should be washed after each use.

With thanks to Kitty Harvill, Artists & Biologists Unite for Nature and Rachel Sprague.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 20 August 2020


Ticks blind two White-chinned Petrels on Possession Island

Ticks 1 

A heavy tick infestation on a White-chinned Petrel (from the publication)

Amandine Gamble (CEFE CNRS, Université Montpellier, France) and colleagues have published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment on a tick infestation on two White‐chinned Petrels Procellaria aequinoctialis.  It seems the birds were found dead.

The short note’s text follows:

“In December 2017, on Possession Island (part of the Crozet Archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean), we observed two breeding white‐chinned petrels (Procellaria aequinoctialis) with very high levels of tick (Ixodes kerguelenensis) infestation on both eyes. This degree of infestation was likely responsible for the birds’ death.  Although this rare observation may seem anecdotal, it reveals that ticks can be fatal for a long‐lived colonial seabird species, in this case one that is already under pressure from fisheries bycatch and predation by introduced black rats (Rattus rattus).  It also raises questions about the frequency and spatial distribution of such a phenomenon and the conditions that may have been responsible for its occurrence. Such high parasite loads imply high local tick abundances but also a lack of preening by the partner.  Could this be linked to the recent death of the partner?  Infestations by ticks can affect the health of hosts through blood loss, the injection of toxins, and the transmission of infectious agents.  In this instance, the mechanical blocking of eyesight may also have affected the birds’ behavior.  The potential impact of climate change on local parasitic infestation levels is another important question.  Parasites and diseases can harm endangered species in polar and subpolar areas, and could play critical roles in some circumstances.”


Gable, A., Weimerskirch, H. & Boulinier, T. 2020.  Seabirds blinded by ticks.  Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 18.  doi:10.1002/fee.2237.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 19 August 2020

After a COVID-19 break long-term monitoring of albatrosses and giant petrels will restart at South Africa’s Marion Island from next month

Danielle Keys Wanderer chick Marion

Danielle Keys with a Wandering Albatross chick in a long-term monitoring colony on Marion Island

The world-wide COVID-19 pandemic has deleteriously affected research and management activities at a number of oceanic islands that support breeding populations of ACAP-listed species, as previously featured in ACAP Latest News.  South Africa is no exception, with a governmental decision to halt all field work on its sub-Antarctic Marion Island from May this year due to virus concerns and not to replace the island’s researchers with a new team during the annual relief voyage in April/May.

Nico de Bruyn of the University of Pretoria’s Marion Island Marine Mammal Programme (MIMMP) studies three species of seals and Killer Whales or Orcas on the island.  A year break in data collection of individually marked animals would severely impact the value of the internationally respected and almost four decade-long studies of marine mammals that he leads.  A similar problem has ensued with demographic studies of individually colour-banded albatrosses and giant petrels undertaken without break since the 1980s by the University of Cape Town’s FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology; recently working in collaboration with the Marine Apex Predator Research Unit (MAPRU) of Nelson Mandela University and the and South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF).

As described in an online article in the Earth Island Journal, Nico de Bruyn has been working towards getting some of the field researchers that were supposed to be part of Marion’s 77th overwintering team from May onto the island by other means.  The opportunity has now arisen with a film crew from Plimsoll Productions that wishes to visit Marion.  An agreement has been brokered with the authorities and a vessel is due to set off for the island in late September - with seven berths reserved for field researchers who will restart the seabird and seal monitoring projects which have been in abeyance for three months since the M76 team was taken off the island.

The seven-person field team will include two ornithological researchers (known at Marion as ‘birders’).  Danielle Keys, a MAPRU postgraduate student, will be looking at the link between demographics and foraging ecology of globally Vulnerable Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans for her PhD.  Danielle has previously spent a year on Marion Island as a member of the M75 (2018/19) overwintering team when her research concentrated on deploying telemetry (GPS and GLS) devices on several albatross, petrel and penguin species, diet sampling, and collecting long-term demographic data on Wanderers.  This summer she will deploy more loggers and continue the monitoring of individually-marked birds that will also include Grey-headed Albatrosses Thalassarche chrysostoma and Northern Giant Petrels Macronectes halli.  Previously Danielle received an MSc with MAPRU for her research on the foraging ecology of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus breeding on Seychelles and la Réunion.

 Thando Cebekhulu Kildalkey Bay Marion

Thando Cebekhulu at Kildalkey Bay, Marion Island with King Penguins Aptenodytes patagonicus, photograph by Bruce Dyer

The second birder is to be Thando Cebekhulu, who will work for DEFF.  Thando is also well experienced, having spent 2017/18 on the island with DEFF as a member of the 74th overwintering team.  His work will concentrate on undertaking censuses of surface-nesting breeding seabirds, including the island’s four species of penguins, for which census and other information following CCAMLR protocols has been collected for three species at Marion for 25 years without a break.  However, with only two ‘birders’ on the island much of their field work will need to be shared between them for practical and safety reasons.

Before sailing next month the vessel’s crew, film party and the seven new M77 team members will all need to be quarantined for 10 days prior to departure in a government-approved facility and tested to be shown to be COVID-19 free to avoid the risk of taking the virus to the island.

With thanks to Nico de Bruyn, Bruce Dyer, Danielle Keys, Azwianewi Makhado and Peter Ryan.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 18 August 2020