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.

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UPDATED. A Northern Giant Petrel gets bitten by a Great White Shark - by mistake?

A Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli was observed feeding from tethered bait deployed to attract Great White Sharks Carcharodon carcharias to a tourist vessel near Dyer Island off South Africa’s southern coast on 8 April.  It sustained two wounds to its left side when a Great White approached the bait.  The bird, a juvenile by its all-dark plumage, was then captured in a scoop net and taken to the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary’s newly opened rehabilitation centre in Gansbaai (click here).  The sanctuary is a project of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust.

Following three stitches by a vet the bird is now doing (and eating) well in temporary captivity.


UPDATE: The bird was released to sea on 15 May at a mass of 4.6 kg, having gained 1.05 kg in captivity.


The shark approaches the bait - and the giant petrel, photograph by Jeremy Miller

The wounded giant petrel in captivity, photographs courtesy of the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary 

Great White Sharks are infrequent predators of seabirds around Dyer Island, with only a couple of attacks reported on African Penguins Spheniscus demersus and Kelp Gulls Larus dominicanus in one study, so it seems likely the shark in this instance was going for the bait, rather than for the bird.  Two other studies have reported penguins and gulls as prey of Great White Sharks in South African waters.

Click here to watch a video of Tiger Sharks C. taurus attacking fledgling Laysan Albatrosses Phoebastria immutabilis.

With thanks to Wilfred Chivell for information.

Selected Literature:

Bass, A.J., D’aurbrey, J.D. & Kitnasamy, N. 1975.  Sharks of the east coast of southern Africa.  The families Odontaspididae. Scapanorhynchidae, Isuridae. Cetorhinidae. Alopiidae and Rhiniodontidae.  Investigational Reports of the Oceanographic Research Institute 39: 1-102.

Johnson, R. L., Venter, A., Bester, M.N. & Oosthuizen, W.H. 2006.  Seabird predation by white shark Carcharodon carcharias and Cape fur seal Arctocephalus pusillus pusillusat Dyer Island.  South African Journal of Wildlife Research 36: 23-32.

Randall, B.M., Randell, R.M. & Compagno, L.J.V. 1988.  Injuries to jackass penguins (Spheniscus demersus): evidence of shark involvement.  Journal of Zoology (London) 214: 589-599.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 18 April 2015, updated 14 July 2015

Where does all that plastic go? Arctic Fulmars act as biological indicators of marine debris

Jan van Franeker (IMARES, Wageningen-UR, AD Den Burg (Texel), Netherlands) and Kara Law have published open access in the journal Environmental Pollution on ingestion of plastic by the Arctic or Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Fulmars are effective biological indicators of the abundance of floating plastic marine debris. Long-term data reveal high plastic abundance in the southern North Sea, gradually decreasing to the north at increasing distance from population centres, with lowest levels in high-arctic waters.  Since the 1980s, pre-production plastic pellets in North Sea fulmars have decreased by ~75%, while user plastics varied without a strong overall change.  Similar trends were found in net-collected floating plastic debris in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, with a ~75% decrease in plastic pellets and no obvious trend in user plastic.  The decreases in pellets suggest that changes in litter input are rapidly visible in the environment not only close to presumed sources, but also far from land.  Floating plastic debris is rapidly “lost” from the ocean surface to other as-yet undetermined sinks in the marine environment.”

An Arctic Fulmar corpse entangled with a balloon

For three earlier papers on Arctic Fulmars ingesting plastic by Jan van Franeker click here, here and here.

Read more of Jan’s work on plastic ingestion by seabirds here.


van Franeker, J.A. & Law, K.L. 2015.  Seabirds, gyres and global trends in plastic pollution.  Environmental Pollution 203: 89-96.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 17 April 2015

Bill, bum or bellow: comparing four methods for sexing Wedge-tailed Shearwaters

Stephen Totterman (Empire Vale, New South Wales, Australia) has published early on-line in the journal Marine Ornithology on sexing Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Identifying female and male birds can be very helpful in field studies.  However, sexual differences in size and plumage are subtle in most petrels.  Four field methods were compared for sexing breeding Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus on Muttonbird Island, New South Wales, Australia: cloaca inspection, biometrics, acoustics and playback-response. Accuracy was evaluated against molecular tests.  A biometric discriminant function combining bill depth and total head length sexed 81% of birds (79 of 98) correctly.  Males averaged 3% larger than females, with overlapping size ranges.  Sexual differences in cloacal size were not always obvious because female cloacae gradually relapse after laying and males struggling in the hand can present extruded cloacae.  Cloacal sexing was 86% correct (93 of 108 birds).  Withinpair comparisons of biometrics and cloacal size increased sex classification accuracy for twice the effort (two birds evaluated rather than one).  An acoustic discriminant function combining fundamental frequency and note length from burrow call recordings sexed 97% of birds (102 of 105) correctly.  A novel playback-response test was efficient and sexed 94% of birds (47 of 50) correctly.”


Wedge-tailed Shearwaters


Totterman, S.L. 2015.  A comparative evaluation of four field methods for sexing Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus.  Marine Ornithology 43: 83-93.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 16 April 2015

ACAP Breeding Site No. 78. Bouvetøya: the World’s most remote island, once supported breeding Southern Giant Petrels

The Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus, an ACAP-listed species, has been recorded breeding in small numbers in the past on Norway's 5850-ha Bouvet Island (Bouvetøya), an isolated Maritime Antarctic island at 54°S in the Atlantic Sector of the Southern Ocean.  The nearest land is Gough Island, 1860 km away, making Bouvet the world’s remotest island.  The island, is a shield volcano, largely covered in glacial ice; the highest point is Olavtoppen at 789 m (also cited as 953 m). The flora consists mainly of lichens and mosses.

Approaching Bouvet Island, 2014/15

Breeding by Southern Giant Petrels was first reported on Nyrøysa, a rocky terrace on the island's west coast, thought created by a landslide in the 1950s, with 20-25 chicks observed in February 1977.  In December 1978 three incubating adults were seen at Nyrøysa.  The last record of breeding on Bouvet was of a single “nest” (assumed occupied but contents not reported) seen on 24 January 1981 during a three-hour South African visit by helicopter to Nyrøysa.

A Southern Giant Petrel on Bouvet Island

Giant petrels gather to roost above the seal and penguin colonies at Nyrøysa

White-phase Southern Giant Petrel after feeding on Bouvet Island

Subsequent summer expeditions to the island in 1989/90, 1996/97, 1998/99, 2000/01, 2001/02, 2007/08 and 2014/15 have all failed to find breeding giant petrels at Nyrøysa, including during the most recent visit by an expedition this last austral summer. Up to 100 giant petrels at a time have been seen around and scavenging within fur seal and penguin congregations at Nyrøysa during summer visits undertaken since 1981. Large parts of Nyrøysa are occupied by Antarctic Fur Seals Arctocephalus gazella.  Despite this potential breeding sites for giant petrels still exist. Seal numbers at Bouvet increased dramatically over the period 1989 to 1996, but are now reported as being stable. However, the cessation of breeding by giant petrels preceded the rapid increase in fur seal numbers, indicating that the seals are unlikely to be the cause of the demise of Bouvet as a giant petrel breeding locality.

It is possible that giant petrels breed elsewhere on the island since Nyrøysa is the only part of the island that has been visited during recent expeditions. However, the mostly glaciated and otherwise rough terrain of the rest of Bouvet mitigate against this.

Both species of giant petrels have been recorded on the island in recent years, although the southern species appears to be the most abundant.  Two colour-banded male Northern Giant Petrels M. halli from Marion Island (where they had previously been recorded breeding) were identified on the island in February 2001.

Northern Giant Petrel

All photographs by Greg Hofmeyr

Why Southern Giant Petrels have ceased to breed at Bouvet is not known.  It apparently happened before the increase in seal numbers and it appears there is sufficient breeding space for them – and a good food supply.

Bouvetøya became a Norwegian possession in 1928.  It has been a Nature Reserve (including territorial waters) proclaimed by Royal Resolution (equivalent to IUCN Category Ia, area managed mainly for science or wilderness protection) since December 1971.  Norway has not declared a 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone around the island.  Bouvet is included on Norway’s tentative list for World Heritage status.  It has been designated as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.

In 1997 Nyrøysa was declared a CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) Ecosystem Monitoring Program (CEMP) site for its penguin populations.  Norway became a Party to the Albatross and Petrel Agreement on 1 June 2007.

A small research station designed to house six people for summer periods was erected on Nyrøysa in 2014replacing one erected in 1996 most likely lost to an avalanche. 

Selected Literature:

Bakken, V. 1991.  Fugle- og selundersøkelser på Bouvetøya I desember/januar 1989/90.  Norsk Polarinstitutt Meddelelser No. 115.  30 pp.

Fevolden, S.E. & Sømme, L. 1977.  Observations on birds and seals at Bouvetøya.  Norsk Polarinstitutt Årbok 1976: 267-371.

Haftorn, S. & Voisin, J.-F. 1982.  The Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus (Gmelin) on Bouvet Island.  Fauna Norvegica Series C, Cinclus 5: 47-48.

Hofmeyr, G.J.G., Krafft, B.A., Kirkman, S.P., Bester, M.N., Lydersen, C. & Kovacs, K.M. 2005.  Population changes of Antarctic fur seals at Nyrøysa, Bouvetøya.  Polar Biology 28: 725-731.

Huyser, O.  2001.  Bouvetøya (Bouvet Island).  In: Fishpool, L.D.C. & Evans, M.I. (Eds).  Important Bird Areas in Africa and Associated Islands.  Girton: BirdLife International.  pp. 13-115.

Isaksen, K., Huyser, O., Kirkman, S., Wanless, R. & Wilson, W. 2000.  Studies of seabirds and seals on Bouvetøya 1998/99.  Norsk Polarinstitutt Internrapport 2.  6 pp.

Keith, D.G., Harck, B.I.B., Ryan, P.G. & Mehlum, F. 2002.  Post-breeding dispersal of Northern Giant Petrels Macronectes halli from Marion to Bouvet Islands.  Marine Ornithology 30: 31.

Patterson, D.L., Woehler, E.J., Croxall, J.P., Cooper, J., Poncet, S., Peter, H.-U., Hunter, S. & Fraser, W.R. 2008. Breeding distribution and population status of the Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli and SMarine Ornithology 36: 115–124.outhern Giant Petrel M. giganteus. 

Watkins, B.P. 1981.  Seabird observations at Bouvet Island.  South African Journal of Antarctic Research 10/11: 38-40.

Watkins, B.P., Cooper, J. & Newton, I.P. 1984.  Scientific research at Bouvet Island, 1785-1983: a bibliography.  South African Journal of Antarctic Research 14: 36-39.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer & Greg Hofmeyr, Port Elizabeth Museum, South Africa, 15 April 2015

ACAP Breeding Site No. 77. Formentera, Balearic Islands still supports a population of the once-exploited Balearic Shearwater

Formentera is the smallest inhabited island of Spain’s Balearic Archipelago in the western Mediterranean, with a total surface of 83.2 km² and a highest point of 192 m.  Formentera lies seven kilometres off the southern tip of Ibiza (Eivissa in Catalan), separated by a shallow strait containing several small islands.  During the last Ice Age the strait was a land bridge connecting Formentera, Ibiza and the small islands, forming a single landmass.

La Mola de Formentera with Punta des Garrovet and Punta de la Xindria

The horizontal stratification of the limestone sea-cliff outcrops with hundreds of caves and crevices makes a habitat for the cave-breeding Balearic Shearwater

A Balearic Shearwater at its breeding site, photograph by Daniel Oro

The resident human population of Formentera is just over 10 000, although Ibiza and Formentera together received over 2.7 million tourists in 2014.  Formentera is a popular one-day destination for tourists that stay in Ibiza.  It also has its own tourist network of hotels and holiday resorts, some of them very near to seabird breeding sites.

The population of the ACAP-listed and Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus on Formentera and islands in the strait was estimated in 2003 as 692 pairs.  There are three colonies on the island of Formentera itself: la Mola (460 pairs), Cap Barbaria (110 pairs) and Punta Prima (50 pairs).  The shearwaters also breed on the nearby small islands of Espalmador (32 pairs) and Espardell (40 pairs). Scopoli’s Shearwaters Calonectris diomedea, Mediterranean Cormorants Phalacrocorax aristotelis desmarestii and Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis also breed on the sea cliffs of Formentera and on the neighbouring islands.

Coves de l’Arena at la Mola

A quaternary sand dune covers the floor of the caves providing soft material for breeding

The Balearic Shearwater is the most abundant bird species found in archaeological sites on Formentara.  Subfossil shearwater remains can be found in nearly every cave or crevice along the island’s limestone coastline, and there is archaeological evidence from several sites that they were an important food source for the first human settlers, with exploitation continuing right up until the 1990s.  Early shearwater sites were easily accessible and likely both young and adult birds were taken, but as populations dwindled and birds became largely restricted to the most inaccessible ledges of the massive sea cliffs of la Mola and Cap Barbaria, only adult birds were captured as they entered the small caves and crevices along the ledges.

Large caves near cliff tops are easily accessible. A project to build a “disco-restaurant” in this cave was abandoned, leaving behind the bulldozer.  Balearic Shearwater bones litter the floor


Shearwater bones and Black Rat and feral cat footprints are common in all the large accessible caves in the sea cliffs of Formentera  

 Collecting Balearic Shearwaters was a dangerous activity, dangling down cliffs with woven ropes made of grass, and was limited to a few experienced families.  Bird carcasses were often exchanged for food and other household foods: the lighthouse keeper of la Mola used to exchange paraffin petroleum for shearwaters.

Stone walls were built to trap adult shearwaters by blocking up most of the entrance of inaccessible caves and crevices

Nooses were then used to snare birds

 Site of Balearic Shearwater colony on Espalmador, Natural Park of Ses Salines, off the north coast of Formentera

La Mola Lighthouse, a perfect place to listen to Balearic Shearwaters at night

 A “virotador “ (virot is the local Catalan name for a shearwater) helped discover the last breeding sites of the Balearic Shearwater on Formentera, but field work was discontinued and there is little current information on the island’s breeding population.

Exploitation of seabirds and the introduction of invasive predators such as Domestic Cats Felis catus (which turned feral) and Black Rats Rattus rattus have caused a great impact on the seabirds of Formentera.  Habitat destruction is an issue in some of the breeding areas, and a problem not yet evaluated is artificial pollution from new tourist facilities.

ACAP Latest News has previously covered the shearwaters of Sa Cella and the Cabrera Archipelago Maritime-Terrestrial National Park on Mallorca and in Menorca in the Balearic Islands.

Selected Literature:

Alcover, J.A. 1989.  Les Aus Marines Fóssils de les Pitiüses en el Context de la Mediterrània. In: López-Jurado, C. (Ed.). Palma de Mallorca, Grup Balear d'Ornitologia i Defensa de la Naturalesa. Aves Marinas. Actas de la IV Reunión dek Grupo Ibérico de Aves Marinas, Sant Francesc Xavier de Formentera 29 de Octubre al 1 de Noviembre de 1988.  pp. 33-43.

Alcover, J.A., Florit, F., Mourer-Chauviré, C. & Weesie, P.D.M. 1992.  The avifaunas of the isolated Mediterranean islands during the Middle and Late Pleistocene.  Papers in Avian Paleontology 36: 273-283.

Alcover, J.A., McMinn, M. & Altaba, C.R. 1994.  Eivissa: a Pleistocene oceanic-like island in the Mediterranean. National Geographic Research & Exploration 10: 236-238.

Arcos, J.M. 2011.  International Species Action Plan for the Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus.  Madrid: SEO/BirdLIfe & BirdLife International.  51 pp.

García, D. & Arbona, P. 2001.  Nueva localidad de nidificación de la Pardela Balear Puffinus mauretanicus en el islote de s'Espalmador. Anuari Ornitològic de les Balears 16: 69-70.

Mayol, J. 1986.  Human impact on seabirds in the Balearic Islands.  In: Monbailliu, X.G. (Ed.).  Mediterranean Marine Avifauna.  Population Studies and Conservation.  Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.  pp. 379-408.

Ramis, D., López-Gari, J.M., McMinn, M., Martínez, J.A. & Quintana, J. 2011.  Els mamífers i les aus del jaciment arqueològic de la cova des Riuets (Formentera).  Eivissa: Consell Insular d'Eivissa.  17 pp.

Ruiz, A. & Martí, R. 2004.  La Pardela Balear.  Madrid:  SEO BirdLife & Conselleria de Medi Ambient del Govern de les Illes Balears.  [no.] pp.

Miguel McMinn, Skua Gabinet d'Estudis Ambientals SLP, Mallorca, Spain & John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 14 April 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.

About ACAP

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Hobart TAS 7000

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