Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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ACAP Breeding Site No. 71. Diomedea Island in Antarctica supports a few Southern Giant Petrels – but no albatrosses despite its name

Diomedea Island is a small rocky elevated island situated in Ardley Cove, Maxwell Bay between Ardley Island and the Fildes Peninsula of King George Island (KGI).  It forms part of the South Shetland Islands off the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.  In low areas moss beds and algae are present with lichens occurring on the more elevated rocks.

Three views of Diomedea Island

Close by on the peninsula lie the Chilean Base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva  and the Russian Bellingshausen Station.

From the 1979/80 summer season to 2013/14 from nil to 17 pairs of Southern Giant Petrels Macronectes giganteus have been recorded breeding on the island, with the latest season yielding 10 pairs.

 A Southern Giant Petrel on its nest on Diomedea Island

Photographs by Christina Braun

The island was originally named Ostrov Al'batros (Albatross Island, or Isla Albatros in Spanish) by the Soviet Antarctic Expedition of 1968, but was changed to Diomedea in 1979 to avoid confusion with an Albatross Island elsewhere within the general region.  However, albatrosses do not occur and so perhaps Macronectes Island would have been a more appropriate name.

Diomedea Island is located in the direct line of the approach path of the Chilean Teniente Rodolfo Marsh Martin Aerodrome.  Low overflights were common in the past but have been greatly strongly reduced since 2003/04. The island also lies close to anchoring grounds used by supply, cruise and patrol vessels.  Diesel resupply to Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva takes place via an underwater pipeline close by.  Only occasional visits are made by station personnel; it is not a site where tourism occurs. 

Selected Literature:

Braun, C., Hertel, F., Mustafa, O., Nordt, A., Pfeiffer, S. & Peter, H.-U. 2013.  Environmental situation and management challenges for the Fildes Peninsula Region.  In: Tin, T., Liggett, D., Maher, P. & Lamers, M.E. (Eds). The Future of Antarctica: Human Impacts, Strategic Planning, and Values for Conservation.  Dordrecht: Springer.  pp. 169-191. 

Braun, C., Mustafa, O., Nordt, A., Pfeiffer, S. & Peter, H.-U. 2012.  Environmental monitoring and management proposals for the Fildes Region, King George Island, Antarctica.  Polar Research 31. 18 pp. 

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

Peter, H.-U., Kaiser, M. & Gebauer, A. 1991.  Breeding ecology of the southern giant petrels Macronectes giganteus on King George Island (South Shetland Islands, Antarctic).  Zoologisches Jahrbuch Systematik 118: 465-477.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer & Christina Braun, University of Jena, Germany, 12 May 2014

More on mercury contamination in sub-Antarctic albatrosses and petrels

Alice Carravieri (Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Villiers-en-Bois, France) and colleagues publish in the journal Environmental Pollution on mercury contamination in the Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans and other sub-Antarctic albatrosses and petrels.

The paper’s abstract follows:

Mercury (Hg) contamination poses potential threats to ecosystems worldwide.  In order to study Hg bioavailability in the poorly documented southern Indian Ocean, Hg exposure was investigated in the large avian community of Kerguelen Islands.  Adults of 27 species (480 individuals) showed a wide range of feather Hg concentrations, from 0.4 ± 0.1 to 16.6 ± 3.8 µg g-1 dry weight in Wilson’s storm petrels and wandering albatrosses, respectively. Hg concentrations increased roughly in the order crustacean- < fish- ≤ squid- ≤ carrion-consumers, confirming that diet, rather than taxonomy, is an important driver of avian Hg exposure.  Adults presented higher Hg concentrations than chicks, due to a longer duration of exposure, with the only exception being the subantarctic skua, likely because of feeding habits’ differences of the two age-classes in this species.  High Hg concentrations were reported for three species of the poorly known gadfly petrels, which merit further investigation.”

Wandering Albatrosses fly over Kerguelen Island, photograph by Maite Louzao

Click here for a related publication.


Carravieri, A., Cherel, Y., Blévin, P., Brault-Favrou, M., Chastel, O. & Bustamante, P.  2014.  Mercury exposure in a large subantarctic avian community.  Environmental Pollution 190: 51-57.

For the complete manuscript click here.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 11 May 2014

Rats! Streaked Shearwaters on Sasu Island, Korea suffer predation during hatching

Ki-Baek Nam (Korea Institute of Ornithology, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Korea) and colleagues write in Korean in the journal Ocean and Polar Research on the effects of predation by Norway Rats Rattus norvegicus on Streaked Shearwaters Calonectris leucomelas when breeding.

The paper’s English abstract follows:

“The seabird plays an important role as one of the indicator species for the status of and changes within marine ecosystems.  Therefore, the conservation of seabirds and their habitats is important for maintaining the structure and function of marine ecosystems.  Biological invasions affect most ecosystems on oceanic islands.  In particular, Rattus spp. is the invasive species with the greatest impact on the seabird population.  Introduced predators, like rats, severely affect seabirds and endanger them worldwide.  The breeding population of Streaked Shearwaters Calonectris leucomelas in Sasu Island is one of biggest seabird colonies in Korea, and the Norway Rat Rattus norvegicus is known as an alien predator in this island.  In this study we investigated rates of burrow occupancy and breeding success of Streaked Shearwaters for 7 years, and the impact of Norway Rats on the breeding success of Streaked Shearwaters breeding in Sasu Island for 4 years.  Our results show that the percentage of breeding burrows decreased according to breeding stage during several years in the monitoring period, and that predation by the Norway Rat was the main cause in hatching failures.  Consequently, although our results indicate that their breeding population is not likely to decline, Norway Rats have been affecting the breeding status of Streaked Shearwaters on Sasu Island during the last decade.”


Nam, K.-B., Lee, K.-G., Hwang, J.-W. & Yoo, J.-C.  2014.  Variation in breeding burrows of Streaked Shearwaters breeding in Sasu Island, and predation rates by Norway Rats.  Ocean and Polar Research 36: 49-57.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 10 May 2014

Flap and glide, glide and flap: how Manx Shearwaters maintain a steady airspeed

R.J. Spivey (Department of Biological Sciences, Bangor University, U.K.) and colleagues have published in the journal Progress in Oceanography on the intermittent flapping flight of the Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Flights of Manx Shearwaters over the Irish Sea were investigated using GPS (n=6) and simultaneous high sample rate triaxial accelerometry (n=1).  This pelagic species executes flight through intermittent bursts of flapping flight interspersed with gliding phases while meandering low over the waves.   To facilitate the analysis and interpretation of body-mounted accelerometry in these challenging circumstances we introduce a combined time and frequency domain technique allowing accurate separation of flapping from gliding, measurement of wing-beat frequency and determination of flapping duty cycle.  Considerable fluctuations in cycle period and time-averaged flapping duty cycle were found.  Our approach offered high temporal precision, which was crucial as half the flapping bursts were briefer than 0.8s and half the cycle times shorter than 2.55s.  Flapping duty cycles exceeding 38% were likeliest for short range flights and ascending flights.  At higher duty cycles, cycle time decreaased and wing-beat frequency and amplitude was only moderately elevated.  Near-continuous flapping was only observed during steep ascents and strong headwinds.  During a long-range foraging flight with good GPS coverage duty cycles between 7% and 63% were observed.  We posit that flapping was modulated in order to maintain a steady airspeed in somewhat variable wind and wave conditions as part of a complex wave-meandering wing-sailing flight strategy that was often effective in reducing locomotion costs.  Periods of very low duty cycle flight appear to have benefited from instantaneous crosswinds exceeding 10 m·s-1with an estimated three-fold reduction in biomechanical power.  Accelerometry offers a very practical tool for studying flight performance and the methods herein described can be readily adapted to other species that intermittently beat their wings.”

Manx Shearwater, photograph by Nathan Fletcher


Spivey, R.J., Stansfield, S. & Bishop, C.M. 2014.  Analysing the intermittent flapping flight of a Manx Shearwater, Puffinus puffinus, and its sporadic use of a wave-meandering wing-sailing flight strategy.  Progress in Oceanography

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 09 May 2014

Trawlers trailing bird-scaring lines built for under US$200 can reduce albatross mortality by more than 95%

Bronwyn Maree (Albatross Task Force, BirdLife South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa) and colleagues have published in the journal Animal Conservation on reductions in seabird mortality that occurs when trawl trail bird-scaring lines.

The paper’s abstract follows:

Globally, many thousands of seabirds are killed accidentally in demersal trawl fisheries through cable interactions and net entanglements.  However, multi-year datasets for estimating seabird–trawl interactions robustly are scarce.  In 2004/2005, an estimated 15 500 (7000–26 000) seabirds were killed annually through cable strikes in the South African deep-water hake trawl fishery; the majority were albatrosses.  We reanalysed those data using fishing effort from vessel logbooks (previously unavailable).  The new estimates are ∼40% lower across all taxa: ∼9300 birds in 2004, of which ∼7200 were albatrosses.  We compare these figures to data from 2006 to 2010, when vessels used a single measure (bird-scaring lines) to reduce seabird mortality.  From 64 trips and 690 hours of observation, 41 seabirds were confirmed killed due to cable strikes, of which 22% were albatrosses.  Fatal cable interactions occurred overwhelmingly when vessels discarded offal, with the highest rates (birds killed per hour of observation) in winter and during setting.  Comparing rates shows that bird-scaring lines alone resulted in 73–95% lower mortality in the winter/discard strata (all seabirds: 0.56 birds per hour before, 0.15 birds per hour after, P < 0.001; albatrosses: 0.44 birds per hour before, 0.02 birds per hour after, P < 0.001).  Estimated total mortality [mean and 95% confidence intervals (CIs)] in this fishery in 2010 was 990 (556–1633) seabirds, including 83 (38–166) albatrosses, a reduction in mean albatross deaths of > 95%, reflecting both bird-scaring line effectiveness (accounting for > 90%) and annual fishing effort reduced by 50% from 2004–2005 to 2010.  Bird-scaring lines cost < US$200 each in South Africa, a trivial expense per vessel for a measure that reduces fatal interactions with threatened seabirds so effectively.  Our results provide a strong case for the mandatory adoption of bird-scaring lines in trawl fisheries with high densities of scavenging seabirds.”

Black-browed Albatrosses gather behind a South Atlantic trawler

Photograph by Graham Parker

Click here to find BLSA's press release on their recently published research on bird-scaring lines for trwalers.

With thanks to Bronwyn Maree for information.


B.A. Maree, B.A., Wanless, R.M., Fairweather, T.P., Sullivan, B.J. & Yates, O. 2014.  Significant reductions in mortality of threatened seabirds in a South African trawl fishery.  Animal Conservation doi:10.1111/acv.12126.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 08 May 2014

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