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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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Wandering Albatrosses to keep a daily diary: South African marine ornithologists sail south for Marion Island today with loggers in their luggage

Once more it is time for the annual relief of the meteorological station at Marion Island in the southern Indian Ocean.  South Africa’s new Antarctic supply and research ship, the S.A. Agulhas II, will depart from Cape Town harbour at 14h00 today and is expected to arrive off the island on 6 April – when offloading by helicopter will commence.

The meteorological/research station on Marion Island above Transvaal Cove, with Junior's Kop and the central snow-covered peaks behind

Photograph courtesy of Marion Island Killer Whales

Among the scientific teams aboard is an experienced one from the University of Cape Town’s FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, led by its newly-appointed Director, Peter Ryan.  Accompanying him is Maëlle Connan, who has already spent a year conducting seabird research on the island.

During the three-week relief period ashore “daily diary” loggers will be attached to up to five breeding Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans to study their nocturnal feeding behaviour.  The loggers (which can record “14 parameters at infra-second frequencies”) will be attached with Tesa tape to the birds’ tail feathers early in the relief, with the aim of recovering them before the end of the relief as they return to feed their downy chicks after single foraging trips.

 Wandering Albatross and chick at Marion Island, photograph by John Cooper

Two field assistants completing the “Fitztitute’s” team, Alexis Osbourne and Vonica Perrold, will remain on the island for a full year, undertaking continued monitoring of long-term study colonies of the four species of albatrosses and the Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli – where all the breeding birds are colour-banded.

As in recent years ACAP’s Information Officer is accompanying the annual relief, so expect some stories on ACAP-listed species from the field over the rest of the month.  The relief expedition is due to return to Cape Town on 8 May.

With thanks to Peter Ryan for information.

Selected Literature:

Wilson, R.P., Shepard, E.L.C. & Liebsch, N. 2008.  Prying into the intimate details of animal lives: use of a daily diary on animals.  Endangered Species Research 4: 123-137.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 02 April 2014

Foraging and nest quality in Cory's Shearwater

Antje Chiu Werner (Departamento de Ornitología, Museo de Historia Natural “Javier Prado,” Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima, Peru) and colleagues have published in the ornithological journal Auk on differences in the at-sea foraging behaviour of male and female Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis in relation to nest quality.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“An extended reproductive period and high variability in food resource availability at sea make good quality nest sites particularly important for the survival of pelagic seabird chicks.  Despite high philopatry during the early pre-laying period, males compete strongly for nests, making this period a unique opportunity to independently assess the influence of nest-site characteristics and individual quality on the foraging behavior of Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea borealis) individuals.  We found significant differences in the at-sea foraging behavior of males and females at temporal (trip duration) and spatial (foraging areas, trip distance, and trip sinuosity) scales, both of which are greater in females.  Furthermore, we suggest that nests of higher quality are deeper and closer to the nest of a conspecific neighbor because both variables were associated with males foraging closer to the colony.  Finally, we showed that during the early pre-laying period the influence exerted by nests on males' behavior at sea is independent from the individual's quality.  Our study links nest-site features with the at-sea behavior of pelagic male seabirds during a period of nest competition and suggests that nest-site characteristics are important to explain foraging patterns of central-place foraging birds.”

 A pair of Corys's Shearwaters, photograph by Paulo Catry


Chiu Werner, A., Paiva, V.H. & Ramos, J.A. 2014.  On the “real estate market”: individual quality and the foraging ecology of male Cory's Shearwaters.  Auk 131:  265-274.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 02 May 2014

Work-shopping a national plan to reduce the impacts of commercial fisheries on seabirds in the USA

Kim Rivera (NOAA National Seabird Program, Juneau, Alaska, USA) and colleagues have recently co-authored a report of a workshop held in 2009 in Seattle, Washington, USA to produce a national plan to improve the state of knowledge and reduce commercial fisheries impacts on seabirds.

The primary goal of this workshop was to initiate the development of a National Seabird Implementation Plan.  Four themes were discussed in break-out groups:

Pelagic seabird abundance and distribution and overlap with fisheries;

Anthropogenic impacts (e.g. bycatch/entanglement/habitat alteration) and mitigation;

Management and coordination within and between agencies and with stakeholders on shared objectives; and

Ecosystem approach to management—seabirds as indicators of marine health (i.e. sentinel species).

Themes emerging from the workshop include continuing to work on seabird bycatch issues, improving connections, networks and educational outreach, and using seabirds as indicators to improve management.

Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses at sea: at risk to fisheries

With thanks to Kim Rivera for information.


Rivera K.S., LT. Ballance, L.T., Benaka, L., Breuer, E.R., Brooke, S.G., Fitzgerald, S.N., Hoffman, P.L., LeBoeuf, N. & Waring, G.T. 2014.  Report of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s National Seabird Workshop: Building a National Plan to Improve the State of Knowledge and Reduce Commercial Fisheries Impacts on Seabirds.  September 9–11, 2009, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Seattle, WANOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/SPO-139.  78 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 01 April 2014

UPDATED Progress with National Plans of Action – Seabirds: how many are there around the World?

The International Plan of Action for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries (IPOA-Seabirds) was developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 1998.

The FAO encourages all its member countries to implement their own National Plans of Action (NPOA-Seabirds).

In terms of the IPOA-Seabirds, countries should first assess the seabird by-catch problem within their fisheries and/or within their coastal waters.  If a bycatch problem is found to exist, each country should then develop and implement its own National Plan of Action (NPOA-Seabirds), based on the recommendations listed in the IPOA-Seabirds.

The following 14 States and other entities have completed their NPOA-Seabirds or broadly equivalent documents, given along with the year of original adoption, or of the latest updated version.  In some cases trawl fisheries are included or are covered by separate documents.

Of these entities seven are Parties to the Albatross and Petrel Agreement.

Argentina (2010)

Australia (2006) (Threat Abatement Plan 2006 for the Incidental Catch (or Bycatch) of Seabirds during Oceanic Longline Fishing Operations)

Brazil (2004)

Canada English French (2007) Progress Report Rapport d'étape (2012)

Chile (2007)

European Union (2012)

Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)* Longline (2011*) Trawl (2009*)

Japan (2009)

New Zealand (2013*, includes trawl and other fisheries)

South Africa (2008)

South Georgia (Isla Georgias del Sur)* (2008 assessment)

Chinese Taipei (2008?)

United States (2006)


*Updated/revised versions.

View NPOA-Seabirds listed on the FAO website here.


With thanks to Ken Morgan for information.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 31 March 2014, updated 03 April 2014

*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.

Field work with a tiny population of Wandering Albatrosses on Australia’s Macquarie Island

Australia’s Macquarie Island is recovering from the ravages of now-removed introduced mammals, allowing its seabirds to breed without predation by cats and rats and habitat alteration by rabbits (click here). 

News of research on Macquarie’s small population of ACAP-listed and Vulnerable Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans was reported in the island’s electronic newsletter “This week at Macquarie Island” last month by ornithological researcher currently based on the island, Kate Lawrence (click here).  It is repeated here with permission as it gives a good account of what it is like to work on a sub-Antarctic island – both in the field with the birds and at the computer in the lab.

A Male Wandering Albatross on its nest at Petrel Peak prior to egg-laying

A Wanderer pair on their nest (female in front) below Mount Haswell 

“On Saturday I returned from a great 12 days in the field 'wanderer' watching.  My purpose was to check on the seven wandering albatross nests we have here this season, to identify partners that we had not yet seen on four of the nests, and to identify any non-breeders hanging about.  So armed with my binoculars, profile pictures of birds we had already identified and my notebook, I set off for Waterfall Bay on day one, to get ahead of the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project (MIPEP) crowd also heading down island on the same day.

When we identify a wanderer by reading the number on the band around its leg, we take a profile picture for future reference.  The plumage on the birds is varied and unique, so having the pictures of the breeding birds previously seen meant that I could identify if that same bird was on the nest from a distance, and prevent unnecessary disturbance.  When we do need to go close to a nest or a non-breeding bird, we sneak up very carefully and slowly, staying quiet and out of sight until close.  As soon as we’ve snuck a peek at the bird’s band and snapped a quick pic, we retreat back out of sight.


Courting Wandering Albatrosses at Petrel Peak

On day two I headed cross country to Cape Star to check if the female of the pair had returned to incubate – luckily she was there.  Then it was on to the Amphitheatre to check the status of two nests there.  As we already had identification for both partners on those nests, I made a quick check to see if the adults were still happily incubating.  It was then down to Caroline Cove hut for the night.

The following day on Petrel Peak two more of the birds I needed to identify were on their nests so I was feeling super productive – just one previously unseen bird to go!  The first incubation shift on the nest taken by the male can be up to 21 days, so I spent the next week checking on the nests and hoping the last remaining bird would turn up, but to no avail.  Hopefully we will see her on our next visit!  Luckily my time was not wasted; I also obtained some re-sights of non-breeding birds on Petrel Peak, in the Amphitheatre and on Cape Star, including a courting couple on the top of Petrel Peak.

A wanderer flies over the Amphitheatre

Upon my return to station, I plugged some band numbers into our database.  Here are some interesting facts about some of our breeding birds this year:

The male incubating on the nest on Petrel Peak is a 25-year-old bird.  In the years between 1998 and 2004 he bred successfully four times with the same partner (wanderers are biennial breeders - every other year).  Then she seems to have disappeared – she has not been seen since 2005.  Sadly, this could be due to being caught on a long-line hook.  Of course we can’t know for sure but long-line fisheries are one of the major threats to a number of species of albatross, including wanderers.  The females from Macquarie Island are more vulnerable to this threat than the males because they head north to feed and are more likely to encounter fisheries than the males who head south.

If a partner dies, it can take years for the bereaved bird to find a new partner (especially given the shortage of females, but also because they can be very picky about choosing a mate!) In this case, our male took five years to find a new partner, and bred successfully with her in 2009/10 and 2011/12.  This is the nest where we have not identified the female this season, but we expect it to be the same female as in 2009/10 and 2011/12.

The nest at the base of Mt. Haswell has an 18-year-old male and female of unknown age (as she was not banded as a chick but as an adult in 2006).  From 2007 to 2010, the male built 'sits' (a sit is a pile of nest material generally smaller and less well-formed than a nest, that gets built up into a nest if a breeding attempt is made), courted and tried to call in females.  However, it wasn’t until 2011/12 that he got hitched and bred successfully with the same female as this year. In 2006/07 and 2008/09 the female bred with a different partner, unsuccessfully the first time and successfully the second.  Three years later she’d switched to her current partner.

Let’s hope that this year, the second breeding year for this partnership, is also successful!”

With thanks to Kate Lawrence for permission to reproduce her account and her photographs.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 30 March 2014


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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