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ACAP Breeding Site No. 95. Motuhara supports Buller’s and Northern Royal Albatrosses and Northern Giant Petrels

 Motuhara Forty Fours Bsarry Baker

Motuhara from the air, photograph by Barry Baker

 Motuhara, otherwise known as the Forty-Fours, is a 11.5-ha island surrounded by six stacks 50 km east of the Chatham Islands (and is thus New Zealand’s easternmost territory).  The island, made up of hard sandstone with a thin soil covering, reaches 60 m via sea cliffs to a relatively flat plateau.  Vegetation consists of herb fields and low shrubs.

Motuhara and some of its sea stacks

Three ACAP-listed species breed in numbers on Motuhara.  Based largely on ground counts made in 2016 the biennially breeding Northern Royal Albatross Diomedea sanfordi (Endangered) has an annually breeding population of the order of 2000-2500 pairs, with 270 occupied nests of this total counted on four of the offshore stacks.  Northern Buller’s Albatrosses Thalassarche bulleri platei (Near Threatened) number around 15 000 -18 000 pairs – the largest colony of the subspecies.  New Zealand’s largest population of Northern Giant Petrels Macronectes halli (Least Concern) is estimated as c. 2000 pairs, based on a count of chicks.  There is relatively little information on population trends for the three species on Motuhara.  Northern Royal Albatrosses are considered to be decreasing in numbers overall, partially (along with fisheries mortality) due to a large storm in 1985 that washed away soil and vegetation in breeding areas leading to nest failures and subsequent reduced subsequent juvenile recruitment.  Up to the middle of the 20th century albatross feathers and bones for cultural purposes and eggs and chicks for human consumption were collected by the indigenous population of the Chathams from the albatross islands; in the last few decades of exploitation only sporadically and sometimes illegally.  The albatrosses (and giant petrels) are now fully protected.

In addition, a single pair of White-capped Albatrosses Thalassarche cauta (Near Threatened) has bred on the island over several seasons, and a Vulnerable Salvin’s Albatross T. salvini pair on at least one occasion.  The Chatham Island Fulmar Prion Pachyptila crassirostris pyramidalis also breeds on Motuhara.

Motuhara Mike Bell White capped Albatross held for banding Motuhara by Mark Fraser

Mike Bell holds a White-capped Albatross for banding on Motuhara, photograph by Mark Fraser

Research activities on Motuhara have concentrated on censuses of breeding birds, by ground counts, aerial photography and satellite imagery, along with some limited banding.  The island is in private ownership as Māori Freehold Land; research landings are by agreement with the registered owners.  The island is free of introduced vertebrates and vascular plants.  It has been identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.

With thanks to Barry Baker and Mike Bell.


Aikman, H. & Miskelly, C. 2004. Birds of the Chatham Islands.  Wellington: Department of Conservation.  116 pp.

Andrews, P.B., Campbell, H.J. & Watters, W.A. 1978.  The Forty Fours: The most easterly outcrop of Mesozoic basement in the New Zealand region.  New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics. 21: 649-652.

Baker, G.B., Jensz, K., Bell, M., Fretwell, P.T. & Phillips, R.A. 2017.  Seabird Population Research, Chatham Islands, 2016/17 Aerial Photographic Survey. Final Report. Report prepared for Department of Conservation Contract 4686-2.  [Kettering]: Latitude 42 Environmental Consultants Pty Ltd.  19 pp.

Bell, B.D. & Robertson, C.J.R.  1994.  Seabirds of the Chatham Islands.  BirdLife Conservation Series No. 1.  pp. 219-228.

Bell, M., Bell, D., Boyle, D. & Tuanui-Chisholm, H.  2017.  Motuhara Seabird Research: December 2016.  Blenheim: Wildlife Management International.  17 pp.

Fraser, M., Cameron, N., Scofield, P. & Robertson, C.J.R. 2010.  Population assessment of Northern Buller’s Albatross and Northern Giant Petrels at the Forty-Fours, Chatham Islands, 1 – 8 December 2009.  Final Report to Ministry of Fisheries.  Christchurch: National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

Frost, P.G.H. 2018.  Aerial Census of Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) Fledglings on Rangitatahi (The Sisters) and Motuhara (Forty-Fours), July 2017.  Whanganui: Science Support Service.  22 pp.

Miskelly, C.M., Bester, A.J. & Bell, M. 2006.  Additions to the Chatham Islands’ bird list, with further records of vagrant and colonising bird species. Notornis 53: 213-228.

Miskelly, C.M., McNally, M., Seymour, J., Gregory-Hunt, D. & Lanauze, J. 2008.  Antipodean wandering albatrosses (Diomedea antipodensis) colonising the Chatham Islands.  Notornis 55: 89-95.

Robertson, C.J.R. 1991.  Questions on the harvesting of Toroa in the Chatham Islands.  Science and Research Series 35: 1-105.  Wellington: Department of Conservation.

Robertson, C.J.R. 1998.  Factors influencing the breeding performance of the Northern Royal Albatross.  In: Robertson, G. & Gales, R. (Eds).  Albatross Biology and Conservation.  Chipping Norton: Surrey Beatty & Sons.  pp. 99-104.

Robertson, C.J.R. & Sawyer, S. 1994.  Albatross research on (Motuhara) Forty Fours islands: 6-15 December 1993. Conservation Advisory Science Notes No. 70.  Wellington: Department of Conservation. 10 pp.

Taylor, G.A. 2000.  Action Plan for Seabird Conservation in New Zealand. Part A. Threatened Seabirds. Threatened Species Occasional Publication No. 16. Wellington: Department of Conservation.  233 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 18 January 2021

An albatross around the neck

 Coleridge watchet ancient mariner

 The Ancient Mariner statue, Watchet, Somerset, UK by sculptor Alan Herriot (click here)

At times, we may describe our inescapable problems, unrelievable burdens, or unsurpassable barriers as an Albatross around the neck.  This idiom can refer equally to existing events or potential situations, and apply to subjects like individuals, groups, entities and infrastructure, to name but a few of its uses.  It comes from an old lyrical ballad by the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere:

Had I from old and young;
Instead of the Cross the Albatross
About my head was hung.

This lyrical ballad concerns the chance meeting of the Ancient Mariner with an unnamed wedding guest, whom he waylays and recites a tale about the dreadful consequences after the Ancient Mariner kills an albatross that was following his sailing ship.

The idea for this lyrical ballad is said, in part, to have arisen during a walk in the Quantock Hills in Somerset where Coleridge’s friend and poet, William Wordsworth, talked about a book he had been reading.  Wordsworth was referring to A Voyage Round the World by Way of the Great South Sea, by Captain George Shelvocke, in which there is an account of the killing of an albatross by one of his crew.

It is interesting in the light of World Albatross Day this year to see the relevant extract from Capt. Shelvocke’s account and the transformation of this into part of Coleridge’s lyrical ballad.

 A Voyage Round the World by Way of the Great South Sea

by Capt. George Shelvocke Commander of the Speedwell, Recovery, &c. in this Expedition (1726)

Thursday, October 1.[1] At 7 in the evening, as they were furling the main-sail, one William Camell cry’d out, that his hands and fingers were so benumb’d that he could not hold himself, but before those that were next to him could come to his assistance, he fell down and was drown’d.

The cold is certainly much more insupportable in these, than in the same Latitudes to the Northward; for, although we were pretty much advanced in the summer season, and had the days very long, yet we had continual squals of sleet, snow and rain, and the heavens were perpetually hid from us by the gloomy dismal clouds.

In short, one would think it impossible that any living thing could subsist in so frigid a climate; and, indeed, we all observed, that we had not had the sight of one fish of any kind, since we were come to the Southward of the streights of le Mair, [2] nor one sea-bird, except for a disconsolate black Albitross who accompanied us for several days, hovering about us as if he had lost himself, till Hatley, (my second Captain) observing, in one of his melancholy fits, that this bird was always hovering near us, imagin’d, from his colour, that it might be some ill omen.

That which, I suppose, induced him the more to encourage his superstition, was the continued series of contrary tempestuous winds, which had oppress’d us ever since we had got into this sea. But be that as it would, he, after some fruitless attempts, at length, shot the Albitross, not doubting (perhaps) that we should have a fair wind after it.

I must own, that this navigation is truly melancholy, and was the more so to us, who were by ourselves without a companion, which would have somewhat diverted our thoughts from the reflection of being in such a remote part of the world, as it were, separated from the rest of mankind to struggle with the dangers of a stormy climate, far distant from any port to have recourse to, in case of the loss of masts, or any other accident; or any other ship.

These considerations were enough to deject our spirits, when we were sensible of the hourly danger we were in of losing our masts, by the incessant continuance of such stormy weather as we underwent; but the hops of enjoying a long repose in the Pacific Sea on the coast of Peru, lightned our cares, and gave us some small relief.

Source: Shelvocke, G. 1726.  A Voyage Round the World by Way of the Great South Sea.  London: J. Senex.  pp. 72-74.

 The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,
in seven parts

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)

Listen Stranger! Mist and Snow,
And it grew wond’rous cauld:
And Ice mast-high came floating by
As green as Emerauld.

And thro’ the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen;
Ne shapes of men ne beasts we ken—
The Ice was all between.

The Ice was here, the Ice was there,
The Ice was all around:
It crack’d and growl’d, and roar’d and howl’d—
Like noises of a swound.

At length did cross an albatross,
Through the Fog it came:
And an it were a Christian Soul,
We hail’d it in God’s name.

The Marineres gave it biscuit-worms,
And round and round it flew:
The Ice did split with a Thunder-fit
The Helmsman steer’d us thro’.

And a good south wind sprung up behind,
The Albatross did follow;
And every day for food or play
Came to the Marinere’s hollo!

In mist or cloud on mast or shroud
It perch’d for vespers nine,
Whiles all the night thro’ fog-smoke white
Glimmer’d the white moon-shine.

“God save the, ancient Marinere!
“From the fiends that plague thee thus—
“Why look’st thou so?”—with my cross bow
I shot the Albatross.

The Sun came up upon the right,
Out of the Sea came he;
And broad as a weft upon the left
Went down into the Sea.

And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet Bird did follow
Ne any day for food or play
Came to the Marinere’s hollo.

And I had done an hellish thing
And it would work ‘em woe;
For all averr’d, I had killed the Bird
That made the Breeze to blow.

Source: Wordsworth W. & Coleridge, S.T. 1798.  Lyrical Ballads.  London: J. & A. Arch.  pp. 8-12, lines 49-98.

[1] In the year 1719.

[2] Le Maire Strait lies between Isla de los Estados and the eastern extremity of Tierra del Fuego.

Coleridge painting 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (21 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) in his 20s in the UK National Portrait Gallery, dated 1795 by the Dutch artist Peter Vandyke (click here)

Marine ornithologists have long speculated over what species was Shelvocke’s “disconsolate black Albitross”, and thus by inference what was Coleridge’s bird.  Suggestions include a juvenile Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans, a sooty albatross Phoebetria sp., or a giant petrel Macronectes sp. (see references below).  While all are plausible, the truth will remain elusive.

Click here for earlier ACAP Latest News postings on Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his poem.

With thanks to Janine Dunlop, Niven Librarian, FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town.

Selected Literature

Barwell, G. [2007] 2014.  Coleridge’s albatross and the impulse to seabird conservation. Kunapipi 29: 22-61.

Barwell, G. 2014.  Albatross. London: Reaktion Books.  208 pp.  [REVIEW]

Bourne, W.R.P. 1982. The Ancient Mariner’s Albatross.  Sea Swallow 31: 56-57.

Brown, R.G.B. 1981.  Was Coleridge’s albatross a giant petrel?  Ibis 123: 551.

Jonathon H.S. Barrington, 15 January 2021

Are ingested plastics a substantial threat to southern albatrosses? A study of beach casts

Atlantic Yellow nosed Albatross.shoe.sole.5.jpg 

A shoe sole in the stomach of a beach-cast Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos (click here)

Lauren Roman (CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart, Australia) and colleagues have published open access in the journal Conservation Letters on levels of plastic ingestion in 12 species of southern hemisphere albatrosses, based on beach-cast birds.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Albatrosses are among the world’s most imperiled vertebrates, with 73% of species threatened with extinction. Ingestion of plastic is a well-recognized threat among three North Pacific species, but lesser known in the southern hemisphere, where it is considered a minor threat. As plastic entering the ocean is increasing while albatross populations decline, the threat of ocean plastic to albatross populations may be underestimated. We present case studies of 107 beach-cast albatrosses of twelve species, received by wildlife hospitals in Australia and New Zealand, and estimate plastic ingestion and mortality rates for albatrosses in the southern hemisphere. Ingested plastic was present in 5.6% of individuals, and the cause of death in half of these cases. We estimate ingestion of plastic may cause 3.4–17.5% of nearshore mortalities and is worth consideration as a substantial threat to albatross populations. We provide clinical findings and “checklist” methodologies for identifying potential cases of foreign-body gastrointestinal obstruction. We suggest practical policy responses, empowering decision makers to reduce albatross mortality from anthropogenic sources.”

 Southern Royal Albatross plastic bottle DOC 1

 Southern Royal Albatross plastic bottle DOC 2

Plastic bottle found in a Southern Royal Albatross Diomedea epomophora after death (click here)

With thanks to Barry Baker.


Roman, L., Butcher, R.G., Stewart, D., Hunter, S., Jolly, M., Kowalski, P., Hardesty, B.D. & Lenting, B. 2020.  Plastic ingestion is an underestimated cause of death for southern hemisphere albatrosses.  Conservation Letters DOI: 10.1111/conl.12785.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 14 January 2021

ACAP Breeding Site No. 94. Rosemary Rock, New Zealand’s northernmost albatross colony

Rosemary Rock Jenn Carol

Rosemary Rock, photograph by Jennifer Carol

Rosemary Rock is a small islet (0.9 ha; 170 x 40 m; 50 m high) with steep cliffs in the Princes Chain of the Manawatāwhi/Three Kings Islands group, situated 57 km north of New Zealand’s North Island.

Rosemary Rock adults

Buller's Albatrosses on Rosemary Rock, photograph by Kevin Parker

The partially vegetated basalt islet, the smallest in the chain, supports a population of some 15-35 pairs of the globally Near Threatened and nationally Naturally Uncommon Buller’s Albatross Thalassarche bulleri first discovered on the islet in 1983. During the most recent visit in May 2020 blood samples were collected from three adults to determine the birds’ taxonomic status; results are awaited to confirm whether New Zealand’s northernmost breeding albatrosses are, as suspected, of the Northern subspecies T. b. platei.  At the time there were only six occupied nests, containing four live and two dead chicks, possibly a consequence of high temperatures in the 2019/20 breeding season causing nest failures.  Red-billed Gulls Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae scopulinus also breed on the rock.

Bullers Albatross chicks Rosemary Rock Kevin Parker

Buller's Albatross chicks on Rosemary Rock, photograph by Kevin Parker

The uninhabited Manawatāwhi/Three Kings Islands with a total land area of 6.85 km² are managed by the local iwi (Māori tribe) Ngāti Kuri and the New Zealand Department of Conservation as a nature reserve.  Rosemary Rock is free of introduced mammals, including rodents.  Given that landing is difficult even in calm seas it seems the islet requires no additional protection.

Read an earlier ACAP Latest News post post on Rosemary Rock.

With thanks to Kevin Parker and Matt Rayner.


Frost, P. 2017.  Sooty Tern: Three Kings Islands.

Frost, P.G.H., Fitzgerald, N., Robinson, R. & Hamilton, O. 2018. Buller’s mollymawk (Thalassarche bulleri) on Rosemary Rock, Three Kings Islands, New Zealand. Notornis 65: 164-167.

McCallum, J., Brook, F. & Francis, M. 1985.  Buller's Mollymawks on Rosemary Rock, Three Kings Islands, in 1985.  Notornis 32: 257-259.

Powlesland, R. 1990.  Report on a visit to Great Island, of the Three Kings, 25 February – 6 March 1989.  Science and Research Internal Report No, 72 No, 72.  Wellington.: Department of Conservation.  20 pp.

Rayner, M.  2020.  Blog. The mystery of Manawatāwhi mollymawks: a history and field report.  Auckland Museum, 7 May 2020.

Rayner, M.J., Parker, K.A., Neho, T. & Hvid, T. 2020.  Buller’s mollymawk (Thalassarche bulleri platei) count at Rosemary Rock, Manawatāwhi (Three Kings Islands).  Notornis 67: 580-582.

Wright, A.E. 1984. Buller's Mollymawks breeding at the Three Kings Islands.  Notornis 31: 203-207.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 13 January 2021

Brazilian artist Wendell Ribeiro passes away leaving a World Albatross Day portrait to help conservation

 Atlantic Yellow nosed Albatross Wendell Ribeiro

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross by Wendell Ribeiro

For the first two months of last year ACAP collaborated with Artists & Biologists Unite for Nature (ABUN) to produce artworks that were used to support the inaugural World Albatross Day on 19 June.  Over a hundred artists contributed, and their artworks have been used to produce posters, a video and to illustrate posts to ACAP Latest News.  As ABUN and ACAP embark on a second collaboration this month entitled “Painting Petrels in Peril”, comes the sad news that one of the collaborating artists who painted albatrosses last year for ‘WAD2020’ has passed away.  ABUN co-founder Kitty Harvill writes evocatively below on the ABUN Facebook page of the passing of Brazilian artist, Wendell Ribeiro in a vehicle accident at the age of 46 on 8 January.

Wendell Ribeiro Birgitte Tummler

Wendell Ribeiro, together with fellow ABUN artist, Birgitte Tūmmler

“It is with great sadness that I share with you the passing of our ABUN member, Wendell Ribeiro. I am so incredibly saddened by this news.  What a wonderful, positive, supportive and talented person Wendell was.  He was so encouraging to me as a foreigner as in love with his Brazilian nature as he was.  He will be deeply missed.  I'm sharing Wendell's artwork for ABUN in 2020, to honour this kind and gentle man.  Deepest sympathy and condolences to his family and friends.  We are all blessed that he touched our lives and brought joy to this world”.

Wendell was an English teacher in Pouso Alegre, a small country city in Minas Gerais, a State in south-eastern Brazil, who had only discovered his artistic talent in the last few years.  His beautiful rendition of an Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos that he produced was inspired by a photograph taken on Gough Island by Michelle Risi.  His painting will continue to be used by ACAP to illustrates its posts and products to help increase awareness of the plight facing the world’s albatrosses, in a small way helping to mark his memory.

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses on Gough Island, photograph by Michelle Risi

With thanks to ABUN artists and Wendell’s friends, Kitty Harvill and Birgitte Tūmmler.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 12 January 2020