ACAP Latest News

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.

Contact the ACAP Communications Advisor if you wish to have your news featured.

Hawaiian and Japanese Black-footed Albatross populations are considered to be separate Management Units

Elisa Dierickx (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biologyand Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA) and colleagues have published in the journal Evolutionary Applications on the genetics of Black-footed Albatrosses Phoebastria nigripes.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Evaluating the genetic and demographic independence of populations of threatened species is important for determining appropriate conservation measures, but different technologies can yield different conclusions.  Despite multiple studies, the taxonomic status and extent of gene flow between the main breeding populations of Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes), a Near-Threatened philopatric seabird, are still controversial.  Here we employ double-digest RADseq to quantify the extent of genome-wide divergence and gene flow in this species.  Our genome-wide dataset of 9,760 loci containing 3455 single nucleotide polymorphisms yielded estimates of genetic diversity and gene flow that were generally robust across seven different filtering and sampling protocols and suggest a low level of genomic variation (θ per site = ~0.00002 – 0.00028), with estimates of effective population size (Ne = ~500 – 15,881) falling far below current census size.  Genetic differentiation was small but detectable between Japan and Hawaii (FST ≈ 0.038 – 0.049), with no FST outliers.  Additionally, using museum specimens, we found that effect sizes of morphological differences by sex or population rarely exceeded 4%.  These patterns suggest that the Hawaiian and Japanese populations are distinguishable and should be considered separate Management Units, although the evolutionary and adaptive consequences of this differentiation remain to be identified.

Black-footed Albatross, photograph by Cynthia Vanderlip


Dierickx, E.G., Shultz, A.J., Sato, F., Hiraoka, T.& Edwards, S.V. 2015.  Morphological and genomic comparisons of Hawaiian and Japanese Black-footed Albatrosses (Phoebastria nigripes) using double digest RADseq: implications for conservation.  Evolutionary Applications DOI: 10.1111/eva.12274.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 20 May 2015

Great albatrosses ingest more marine debris than do mollymawk albatrosses

Sebastián Jiménez (Recursos Pelágicos, Dirección Nacional de Recursos Acuáticos, Montevideo, Uruguay) and colleagues have written in the Marine Pollution Bulletin on levels of marine debris found in the stomachs of albatrosses.  A total of 128 specimens was examined from the south-west Atlantic: 16.4% contained between one and four debris items in their stomachs.  Plastic fragments were most common, but some fisheries-related items were recorded.  Debris was most frequent in great albatrosses Diomedea spp. and very rare in mollymawks Thalassarche spp.

The paper’s abstract follows:

Plastics and other marine debris affect wildlife through entanglement and by ingestion.  We assessed the ingestion of marine debris by seven albatross species in the southwest Atlantic by analyzing stomach contents of birds killed in fisheries.  Of the 128 specimens examined, including four Diomedea species (n = 78) and three Thalassarche species (n= 50), 21 (16.4%) contained 1–4 debris items, mainly in the ventriculus.  The most common type was plastic fragments.  Debris was most frequent  (25.6%) and, particularly, Diomedea sanfordi (38.9%) and very rare in Thalassarche species (2.0%), presumably reflecting differences in foraging behavior or distribution.  Frequency of occurrence was significantly higher in male than female Diomedea albatrosses (39.3% vs. 18.0%).  Although levels of accumulated debris were relatively low overall, and unlikely to result in gut blockage, associated toxins might nevertheless represent a health risk for Diomedea albatrosses, compounding the negative impact of other human activities on these threatened species.


Northern Royal Albatross at sea, photograph by Aleks Terauds

With thanks to Richard Phillips for information.


Jiménez, S., Domingo, A, Brazeiro, A., Defeo, O. & Phillips, R.A. 2015.  Marine debris ingestion by albatrosses in the southwest Atlantic Ocean.  Marine Pollution Bulletin doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2015.05.034.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 19 May 2015

Hola Marco! ACAP chooses its new Executive Secretary

At the close of the Fifth Session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (MoP5) held in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain from 4 – 8 May 2015 it was announced that Dr Marco Favero of Argentina is to become ACAP’s Executive Secretary from 1 February next year.  Marco’s appointment follows a careful selection and interview process that culminated at MoP5.  He will be only ACAP’s second Executive Secretary, following Warren Papworth who is scheduled to retire at the end of January next year after six years in the position (click here).


Dr Marco Favero of Argentina

Since 2007 Marco has been the Chair of ACAP’s Advisory Committee, in which position he has chaired five of its meetings, most recently AC8 in Punta del Este, Uruguay in September last year.

Marco was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1963 and studied marine biology at the Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata.  After his graduation in 1986, he started a 20-year research project in Antarctica, and later earned his Doctoral degree for his thesis on Antarctic seabird ecology.  His background in the biology and ecology of top marine predators comprises over 200 publications including research articles and presentations at scientific conferences, one of the most recent of which has been featured in ACAP Latest News (click here).

Marco Favero is currently Head of the Seabird Ecology and Conservation Group at the Institute for Marine and Coastal Research (IIMyC, CONICET - University of Mar del Plata), and a Principal Investigator at the National Research Council in Argentina.

From left: Marco Favero, Warren Papworth and  Ricardo Losa Giménez (MoP5 Chair, Spain) in Tenerife

Selected Literature:

Favero, M. & Seco Pon, J.P. 2014.  Challenges in seabird by-catch mitigation.  Animal Conservation 17: 532–533.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 18 May 2015

Mid-air attack on a Black-browed Albatross fledgling by skuas and giant petrels at Bird Island

Having developed from egg to fledgling over the last seven to eight months, the Black-browed Thalassarche melanophris and Grey-headed T. chrysostoma Albatross chicks at Bird Island, South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur)* have been departing recently on their inaugural flights over the Southern Ocean.  It is rare to see the precise moments of their first flights, but albatross zoological field assistant Lucy Quinn witnessed just such an event from one of the colonies near the research station, where the albatross populations have been monitored for more than 30 years.  She reports to ACAP Latest News:

"The first flight of one Black-browed Albatross fledgling was ungainly and, unfortunately, was to be its last.  It was not flying particularly strongly, flapping rapidly just to stay airborne, but was at least heading out to sea. However, within 10 seconds of take-off two Subantarctic Skuas Catharacta antarcticus appeared (based on their degree of coordination they were likely a pair), and took it in turns to harass the fledgling and peck at its back.  They were quickly joined in flight by three Northern Giant Petrels Macronectes halli.  Apparently trying to escape, the fledgling turned back towards land.  As the skuas continued to harass the albatross from above, one of the giant petrels came from below to seize its tail, eventually downing the bird.  The giant petrels landed, followed closely by the skuas.  In total, the entire predation event took less than six minutes from the time the chick left its nest.  The giant petrels then killed and consumed the fledgling.

A Black-browed Albatross chick close to fledging in a study colony on Bird Island, photograph by Lucy Quinn

A Subantarctic Skua feeds on the carcass of an albatross chick on Bird Island, photograph by Lucy Quinn

Giant petrels are the main predators of albatross chicks on Bird Island around the time of fledging, photograph by Alastair Wilson 

Another fledgling was seen being harried in flight later the same day.  This behaviour has not been reported before at Bird Island and begs the question as to how many albatross chicks are depredated shortly after fledging, either on their first flight or close to land before their flying skills are well developed."

With thanks to Andy Wood.

Lucy Quinn, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 17 May 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.

“Live long and prosper”. Northern Royal Albatrosses are doing well at New Zealand’s Taiaroa Head

Yvan Richard (Dragonfly Science, Wellington, New Zealand) and colleagues have published open access in the online journal PeerJ on aspects of the demographic rates of Northern Royal Albatrosses Diomedea sanfordi that breed on Taiaroa Head on New Zealand’s South Island.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Demographic rates, such as annual survival rate, are generally difficult to estimate for long-lived seabirds, because of the length of time required for this kind of study and the remoteness of colonies.  However, a small colony of northern royal albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) established itself on the mainland of New Zealand at Taiaroa Head, making possible regular banding and monitoring of its individuals since the first chick fledged, in 1938.  Data on the presence/absence of birds, as well as on breeding outcomes, were available for the period from 1989–90 to 2011–12, and included 2128 annual resightings of 355 banded individuals of known age.  The main goal of the present study was to estimate the annual survival rate of juveniles, pre-breeders, and adults at Taiaroa Head.  These rates were estimated simultaneously in a single Bayesian multi-state capture-recapture model.  Several models were fitted to the data, with different levels of complexity.  From the most parsimonious model, the overall annual adult survival rate was estimated as 0.950 (95% CI [0.941–0.959]). In this model, adult survival declined with age, from 0.976 (95% CI [0.963–0.988]) at 6 years, the minimum age at first breeding, to 0.915 (95% CI [0.879–0.946]) at 40 years.  Mean annual survival of pre-breeders was 0.966 (95% CI [0.950–0.980]), and 0.933 (95% CI [0.908–0.966]) for juveniles.  There was no discernible difference in survival between males and females, and there was no apparent trend in survival over time.  Estimates of other demographic rates were also obtained during the estimation process. The mean age at first return of juveniles to the colony was estimated as 4.8 years (95% CI [4.6–5.1]), and the mean age at first breeding as 8.9 years (95% CI [8.5–9.3]).  Because all the birds of the colony were banded, it waas possible to estimate the total population size.  The number of northern royal albatross present annually at the Taiaroa Head colony has doubled since 1989–90, and the current total population size was estimated to be over 200 individuals.  The ratio of the total population size to the number of annual breeding pairs varied from5 to 12 among years, with an overall mean of 7.65 (95% CI [7.56–7.78]), and this high variability highlights the need for a sufficient number of surveys of seabird breeding populations before reliable conclusions on population trends can be made.  Although long-term data allowed estimates of demographic rates of northern royal albatross at Taiaroa Head, the location of the colony and the ongoing management by staff mean that the population dynamics may differ from those of the main population on the Chatham Islands.”


Nothern Royal Albatross and chick at Taiaroa Head, photograph by Lydon Perriman

With thanks to Barry Baker for information.


Richard, Y., Perriman, L., Lalas, C. & Abraham, E.R. 2015.  Demographic rates of northern royal albatross at Taiaroa Head, New Zealand.  PeerJ 3:e906.  DOI 10.7717/peerj.906

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 17 May 2015

The Agreement on the
Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

ACAP is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve listed albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.

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