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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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

Stable isotopes show variability in foraging and migration strategies of Grey-headed Albatrosses

 Bird Island 5 Richard Phillips

Grey-headed Albatross on Bird Island, South Atlantic, photograph by Richard Phillips

William Mills (British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK) and colleagues have published in the journal Ibis on using stable isotopes to study non‐breeding adult Grey‐headed Albatrosses Thalassarche chrysostoma while at sea.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“The non‐breeding period is critical for restoration of body condition and self‐maintenance in albatrosses, yet detailed information on diet and distribution during this stage of the annual cycle is lacking for many species. Here, we use stable isotope values of body feathers (δ 13C, δ 15N) to infer habitat use and trophic level of non‐breeding adult Grey‐headed Albatrosses Thalassarche chrysostoma (n = 194) from South Georgia. Specifically, we: (i) investigate intrinsic drivers (sex, age, previous breeding outcome) of variation in habitat use and trophic level; (ii) quantify variation among feathers of the same birds; and (iii) examine potential carry‐over effects of habitat use and trophic level during the non‐breeding period on subsequent breeding outcome. In agreement with previous tracking studies, δ 13C values of individual feathers indicate that non‐breeding Grey‐headed Albatrosses from South Georgia foraged across a range of oceanic habitats, but mostly in subantarctic waters, between the Antarctic Polar Front and Subtropical Front. Sex differences were subtle but statistically significant, and overlap in the core isotopic niche areas was high (62%); however, males exhibited slightly lower δ 13C and higher δ 15N values than females, indicating that males forage at higher latitudes and at a higher trophic level. Neither age nor previous breeding outcome influenced stable isotope values, and we found no evidence of carry‐over effects of non‐breeding habitat use or trophic level on subsequent breeding outcome. Repeatability among feathers of the same individual was moderate in δ 13C and low in δ 15N. This cross‐sectional study demonstrates high variability in the foraging and migration strategies of this albatross population.”


Mills, W.F., McGill, R.A.R., Cherel, Y., Votier, S.C. & Phillips, R.A. 2020.  Stable isotopes demonstrate intraspecific variation in habitat use and trophic level of non‐breeding albatrosses.  Ibis

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 17 August 2020

Albatrosses and giant petrels continue to ingest plastic litter at South Africa’s Marion Island

Wandering Albatross by John Cooper

An elderly male Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans and chick, near Prinsloomeer on Marion Island, photograph by John Cooper

Vonica Perold (FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, South Africa) and colleagues have published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin on plastic ingested by albatrosses and giant petrels at sub-Antarctic Marion Island.  Fishery-related litter decreased with reduced local fishing effort, but non-fishery litter items increased between 1996 and 2018.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Plastic ingestion by seabirds is an efficient way to monitor marine plastics. We report temporal variation in the characteristics of marine litter regurgitated by albatrosses and giant petrels on sub-Antarctic Marion Island between 1996 and 2018. Both fishery and other litter peaked during the height of the Patagonian toothfish fishery around the island (1997–1999). Comparing the two subsequent decades of reduced fishing effort (1999–2008 and 2009–2018), fishing litter decreased while other litter increased across all species. Litter increased most in grey-headed albatrosses, followed by giant petrels and wandering albatrosses. Similar ranked responses were found in the same species at South Georgia, but non-fishery-related litter has increased faster in the Indian Ocean than the southwest Atlantic, indicating regional changes in litter growth rates. These seabirds' regurgitations provide an easy, non-invasive way to track changes in oceanic litter in a remote area that is otherwise difficult to monitor.”


Perold, V., Schoombie, S. & Ryan, P.G. 2020.  Decadal changes in plastic litter regurgitated by albatrosses and giant petrels at sub-Antarctic Marion IslandMarine Pollution Bulletin 159.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 14 August 2020