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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Take off time? Flight decisions by female and male Wandering Albatrosses


Wandering Albatross in the Drake Passage, photograph by Kirk Zufelt

Thomas Clay (School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, UK) and colleagues have published open access in the Journal of Animal Ecology on aspects of flight behaviour in relation to wind by incubating Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“·  In a highly dynamic airspace, flying animals are predicted to adjust foraging behaviour to variable wind conditions to minimize movement costs.

  • Sexual size dimorphism is widespread in wild animal populations, and for large soaring birds which rely on favourable winds for energy‐efficient flight, differences in morphology, wing loading and associated flight capabilities may lead males and females to respond differently to wind. However, the interaction between wind and sex has not been comprehensively tested.
  • We investigated, in a large sexually dimorphic seabird which predominantly uses dynamic soaring flight, whether flight decisions are modulated to variation in winds over extended foraging trips, and whether males and females differ.
  • Using GPS loggers we tracked 385 incubation foraging trips of wandering albatrosses Diomedea exulans , for which males are c . 20% larger than females, from two major populations (Crozet and South Georgia). Hidden Markov models were used to characterize behavioural states—directed flight, area‐restricted search (ARS) and resting—and model the probability of transitioning between states in response to wind speed and relative direction, and sex.
  • Wind speed and relative direction were important predictors of state transitioning. Birds were much more likely to take off (i.e. switch from rest to flight) in stronger headwinds, and as wind speeds increased, to be in directed flight rather than ARS. Males from Crozet but not South Georgia experienced stronger winds than females, and males from both populations were more likely to take‐off in windier conditions.
  • Albatrosses appear to deploy an energy‐saving strategy by modulating taking‐off, their most energetically expensive behaviour, to favourable wind conditions. The behaviour of males, which have higher wing loading requiring faster speeds for gliding flight, was influenced to a greater degree by wind than females. As such, our results indicate that variation in flight performance drives sex differences in time–activity budgets and may lead the sexes to exploit regions with different wind regimes.”


Clay, T.A., Joo, R., Weimerskirch, H., Phillips, R.A., den Ouden, O., Basille, M., Clusella‐Trullas, S., Assink, J.D. & Patrick, S.C. 2020.  Sex‐specific effects of wind on the a sexually dimorphic soaring bird.  Journal of Animal Ecology

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 25 June 2020

A research trip after Salvin’s Albatrosses on New Zealand’s Bounty Island

Bounty Salvins 1 

The Bounty Islands are bare, windswept and home to thousands of Salvin’s Albatross

The following ‘conservation blog was posted on last week’s World Albatross Day as part of New Zealand’s celebrations of the event.  It is reposted here with the kind approval of the Department of Conservation (DOC).

It would be hard to imagine a tougher place to raise a family than the Bounty Islands, a cluster of bare rocks in the middle of the Southern Ocean.  Four days by boat from New Zealand, these granite domes are cold, wave-swept and most lack any vegetation larger than lichens.

But the Bountys are sought-after real estate for [globally Vulnerable] Salvin’s Albatrosses Thalassarche salvini.  Tens of thousands of the stern-looking birds cram onto the islands each spring to hatch a single egg in a nest made of the most plentiful material available – poo.

Researchers Graham Parker, Kalinka Rexer-Huber and Paul Sagar have spent a few precious days on the island in the last two summers to help solve some major mysteries about the species: how many breeding birds there are, and where they go on their annual migration.

“Just getting onto the islands is a mission.  We wait offshore for calm enough conditions to land, though it’s more of a full body contact scramble than a landing!  We’re exceedingly cautious about picking the weather because it’s such a long way away from help if anything went wrong.”

Camping is off-limits to avoid disturbing the wildlife.  Graham says even stepping onto the island feels very intrusive.  “It’s a busy and noisy place and we can’t help but disturb things because it’s so densely populated.  We have to be very careful to get our work done efficiently with minimum impact, then leave them all to it.”

The team is using new technology – drones and satellite-transmitting GPS trackers – to find out more about the Salvin’s Albatross, a species that is as endangered as our Kakapo.

Drone images are proving to be a better way to count the number of breeding birds than the previous aerial photos taken from aircraft.  “Those photos tended to be quite fuzzy and indistinct, but drones can fly close to the islands and get some fantastically crisp images.  They should give us a much more refined estimate of the population.”

Kalinka says what you count is really important.  “From a conservation perspective, it’s the breeding pairs that matter because they’re producing the next generation.  But there are lots of non-breeding birds around and some are sitting on nests with no eggs, which you can’t tell from an aerial photo.  So any counts from aerial photos need to be calibrated by recording the actual proportion of nesters vs pretenders on the ground in a defined area.”

 Bounty Salvins 2

Nesting Salvin’s Albatross

Salvin’s Albatrosses are accidentally caught in trawl and longline fisheries in New Zealand waters and internationally.  In the 2017–18 fishing year, estimates are that 288 Salvin’s were caught in New Zealand trawl fisheries, and a further 64 in our longline fisheries.  The number caught in international waters or by other countries is not known.

“Birds and fishers go to the same places because they’re after the same resource – fish.  If we know where the birds are going, we’re in a better position to reduce interactions and keep more birds alive.”

Two different types of trackers were attached to birds as a comparison.  The data show exactly where they go on their annual 7000-km migration to the coast of South America.

Bounty Salvins 3 

Holding an albatross so the tracker can be attached. Kalinka says they are the size of a medium-size dog but much lighter.  Photographs by Bill Morris

“We put satellite transmitters on 30 birds.  These cost thousands of dollars each but show us the birds’ location in real time and don’t have to be retrieved (they are attached to back feathers that eventually fall out).  The other trackers – geolocators – are only worth a couple of hundred each but have to be collected to get the stored data back.”

One bird’s tracker stopped transmitting in New Zealand waters and another stopped in South America (that device may have run out of battery).  Data from the geolocators are still being analysed.

An animation shows the satellite transmitter data from five Salvin’s Albatrosses as they left the Bounty Islands and headed north to New Zealand then crossed the Pacific Ocean to South America

“There’s now tons of support for conservation on land, but there’s a disconnect with conservation at sea.  These magnificent birds aren’t as easy to see as our bush birds or dolphins, but they’re just as much our taonga [treasured possession] and our responsibility.”

Graham and Kalinka’s take-home is that we can all do something: we can be more discerning about the fish we buy.  “Ask where it came from, how it was caught and what the company is doing to stop birds being killed.  And take any opportunity you can to get out on the water and say hi to these incredible animals!”

Parker Conservation was sub-contracted by NIWA for this research, which was funded by DOC.  Paul Sagar, a NIWA scientist, has a long history of seabird research in New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic region.

View a 12-minute video made on the trip under DOC research permit by photographer, Bill Morris and read an illustrated account by Thomas Mattern (see reference below).

While on the island, the research team displayed one of the first World Albatross Day banners, now entered into the ‘WAD2020 Banner Challenge’, along with many others from New Zealand and elsewhere.


Mattern, T. 2020. Seabirds in the ‘snow’ – 2019 Bounty Islands expedition.  Birds New Zealand 26: 10-15.

With thanks to Igor Debski, New Zealand Department of Conservation & Graham Parker, Parker Conservation.


John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 24 June 2020, updated 25 June 202h0

The last World Albatross Day banner for 2020 comes from the Albatross Task Force in Namibia

Namibia Samantha Matjila

From left: Samantha Matjila (Albatross Task Force Team Leader/Namibian Nature Foundation Marine Coordinator), Diina Mwaala, (Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Senior Fisheries Biologist – Marine Mammal Section), Desmond Tom (MFMR Senior Fisheries Biologist – Seabirds Section & Namibia's Observer to the 2019 ACAP meeting), Abner Amadhila (MFMR Fisheries Research Technician), Jean-Paul Roux (NNF Technical Advisor) & Angus Middleton (NNF Director); photograph taken at sea off Halifax Island near Lüderitz in southern Namibia

Last week, the Albatross and Petrel Agreement (ACAP), along with a host of other organizations worldwide, marked the inaugural World Albatross Day on 19 June.  BirdLife International and its national affiliates and partners in more than a dozen countries were among the foremost bodies offering support through their social media and other outlets – as has been regularly reported on this website and shared to ACAP’s Facebook page over the last 12 months.

BirdLife International and its UK partner, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, jointly launched the Albatross Task Force (ATF) in 2005 – an international team of seabird bycatch mitigation experts on a mission to reduce bycatch in some of the world’s deadliest fisheries for seabirds.  Today the ATF has teams based in five countries across South America and southern Africa working to reduce the at-sea mortality of albatrosses and petrels caused by both longline and trawl fisheries.  Four of these teams, those in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and South Africa, had prior to ‘WAD2020’ responded to ACAP’s ‘Banner Challenge' by making and displaying a banner advertising World Albatross Day.  Two teams, in Chile and South Africa, were able to take their banners to sea on fishing vessels as originally intended, but Argentina and Brazil were stymied by COVID-19 Pandemic shutdowns in their countries and had to photograph their banners on shore.  This left only one ATF team unrepresented, that of Namibia.

Most welcome then on World Albatross Day itself for ACAP Latest News to receive a banner photo taken by the Namibian ATF Team, thus completing a full house of responses from the ATF.  Samantha Matjila is the team leader for the Albatross Task Force in Namibia and the marine coordinator for the environmental NGO, the Namibian Nature Foundation (NNF).  In the absence of a BirdLife national affiliate or partner in Namibia, the ATF is hosted by the NNF and Samantha and her team also work closely with Namibia’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR).  The NNF describes itself as the leading conservation and sustainable development organisation in the country.  It “promotes sustainable development, the conservation of biological diversity and natural ecosystems as well as the wise and ethical use of natural resources for the benefit of all Namibians both present and future.”

ATF-Namibia works with the hake demersal longline and trawl fisheries, consisting of 13 and 56 vessels, respectively, operating out of the ports of Walvis Bay and Lüderitz.  In 2019/20 the team spent 129 days sea observing seabird mortality from fishing vessels and undertook outreach activities that included training workshops, distribution of seabird identification guides and beach clean ups.

Namibia’s photo here now joins 52 other banner displays entered into the WAD2020 Banner Challenge.  Visit the ACAP Facebook album and click on those that you particularly like.  The banner with the most likes come 30 June is up for a prize!

With thanks to Nina da Rocha, Albatross Task Force Project Officer, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 23 June 2020

Bird-scaring lines and night setting on pelagic longliners save albatrosses from drowning on hooks

Media Release .4

A bird-scaring line with its hanging streamers keeps albatrosses and petrels away from the hooks on a Brazilian longliner

Photograph by Dimas Gianuca, Albatross Task Force - Brazil

Sebastián Jiménez (Laboratorio de Recursos Pelágicos, Dirección Nacional de Recursos Acuáticos, Montevideo, Uruguay) and colleagues have published in the journal Biological Conservation on the effectiveness of bird-scaring lines and night setting in reducing seabird mortality during pelagic longlining  “Major reduction in global bycatch could be achieved, if [these] measures are widely applied.”

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Bycatch in pelagic longline fleets remains a considerable source of mortality for threatened seabirds.  Despite efforts to implement mitigation measures, the effectiveness of their application across multiple fleets and wide spatio-temporal scales remains poorly understood.  We analyse about 15,800 sets and 36.4 million hooks observed during 583 trips aboard 132 vessels from five pelagic longline fleets (Brazil, Portugal, South Africa, Uruguay and foreign charter-vessels) operating in the south Atlantic and southwestern Indian Oceans (2002–2016) to assess the large-scale effect on bycatch rates of the implementation over time of night-setting and Tori (bird-scaring or streamer) lines.  There was a highly significant decrease in standardised bycatch rate from 2002 to 2008 to 2009–2011 and a further reduction in 2012–2016, as consequence of an increased use of mitigation measures.  This reduction on fleet-wide bycatch rates temporally coincides with the progressive implementation of mitigation measures in the two relevant Regional Fishery Management Organisations.  Night-setting significantly reduced bycatch rates under all conditions, particularly for albatrosses.  Surprisingly, bycatch rate during daylight was higher when Tori lines were deployed. Inconsistencies in Tori line deployments, entanglements with the fishing gear and the non-use of this measure with low seabird abundance may explain this pattern.  At night, relative moon illumination increased bycatch rate, especially of petrels, but Tori lines significantly reduced seabird bycatch.  Our results imply that a major reduction in global bycatch of threatened seabirds could be achieved, if night setting and Tori lines are correctly applied and extensively implemented by fleets operating south of 25°S.”


Jiménez, S.,  Domingo, A., Winker, H., Parker, D., Gianuca, D., Neves, T., Coelho R. & Kerwath, S. 2020.  Towards mitigation of seabird bycatch: large-scale effectiveness of night setting and Tori lines across multiple pelagic longline fleets.  Biological Conservation

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 22 June  2020

Antarctica joins the banner challenge on World Albatross Day


A 'WAD2020’ poster in Antarctica.  "Zach” Mogale is in the front row on the right with members of South Africa's 59th Overwintering Team

Zachariah "Zach” Mogale is a meteorological technician, known as a “metkassie”, at South Africa’s SANAE IV base at Vesleskarvet in Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica.  With prior experience helping with albatross studies on Gough Island he joined with his fellow team members to make a poster commemorating last week’s inaugural World Albatross Day.

The contribution from Antarctica is the first from that Continent.  It joins banners and posters displayed around the world at albatross breeding localities, including from all but one of the Parties to the Agreement that support populations of breeding albatrosses.


All the images can be viewed in an ACAP Facebook album.  At month end the top three banners as judged by the public “liking” the images will be announced.  To vote, simply visit the album with its 52 images and click on “Like’ for the one you prefer the most – or click on as many as you wish.  The top three scorers will win World Albatross Day poster prizes that will be mailed out as soon as COVID-19 restrictions allow.

With thanks to Zachariah Mogale and Michelle Risi.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 21 June 2020

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