Royal Naval Bird Watching Society awards a scholarship to study the Southern Giant Petrels of Gough Island

The Royal Naval Bird Watching Society (RNBWS) has awarded a Captain Simpson Scholarship to establish a long-term demographic study of the Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus (an ACAP-listed species) on Gough Island in the South Atlantic.

The scholarship, which was established by the RNBWS from a legacy made to it by Captain Davis Simpson, Merchant Navy, who passed away in 2002 (click here), will allow the necessary colour and metal bands, banding equipment and nest markers to be purchased and will also cover the costs of fares to the island for two researchers from Cape Town, South Africa. The project will be run by John Cooper (African Seabird Group), with support from Richard Cuthbert (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and Peter Ryan (FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town).

Gough Island in the UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic is the most northerly breeding locality of the species. It is the only breeding locality within the Tristan Group as breeding has not occurred on the main island of Tristan da Cunha for a century or more. Approval for the project to go ahead has come from the Tristan Conservation Department.

Recent whole-island censuses of Southern Giant Petrels on Gough suggest that the population is increasing in size, perhaps in response to an increasing island population of Subantarctic Fur Seals Arctocephalus tropicalis from which they scavenge. They also scavenge in the winter months on chicks of the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena that have either been killed or mortally wounded by introduced House Mice Mus musculus. This last represents an "unnatural" food source over the austral winter months when seals (and penguins) are largely absent from the island. This extra source of food may be enhancing their survival and/or improving their body condition prior to summer breeding, and thus their breeding success, ultimately leading to the population growth observed.

The long-term demographic study of Gough's Southern Giant Petrels will commence in September/October 2010 during the annual relief of the South African weather station on the island. Information collected will be used to help assess whether breeding success and population changes are influenced by scavenging from either or both seals and albatross chicks, and to compare with the results of more southerly studies of the species.


John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 4 February 2010

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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