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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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Size matters: New Zealand burrowing petrels withstand predatory Stoats best on small islands

Sooty Shearwater, Photograph from West Coast Penguin Trust

Colin Miskelly (Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand) and colleagues have published in the ornithological journal Notornis on a survey of burrowing petrels on islands in Fiordland, New Zealand.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Forty breeding colonies of three petrel species were found on 35 of 71 islands surveyed in southern Fiordland, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand, in November and December 2017. Almost all islands in Chalky Inlet, Preservation Inlet, Cunaris Sound, Long Sound, and Isthmus Sound were surveyed. Sooty shearwater (Ardenna grisea) was the most widespread and abundant species, with an estimated 23,425 burrows on 25 islands. Broad-billed prions (Pachyptila vittata) were breeding on nine islands (9,940 burrows estimated), and mottled petrels (Pterodroma inexpectata) on five islands (1,240 burrows estimated). This is a 3-fold increase in the number of petrel colonies in Chalky and Preservation Inlets and associated waterways identified in published accounts, and the first estimate of the number of burrows on each island. Long-term survival of most of these colonies is dependent on ongoing control of stoats (Mustela erminea) on islands in these southern fjords. The persistence of remnant petrel colonies on small islands is probably due to stoats being infrequent invaders that are unable to persist when migratory petrels depart at the end of the breeding season.”

Read a popular account of the publication.


Miskelly, C.M., Bishop, C.R., Taylor, G.A. & Tennyson, A.J.D. 2019. Breeding petrels of Chalky and Preservation Inlets, southern Fiordland – a test of the ‘refugia from resident stoats’ hypothesis.  Notornis 66: 74-90.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 07 February 2020

Integrating age-class information on at-sea distribution of Southern Ocean albatrosses and petrels shows an increased risk from fisheries

Carneiro 2020 graphical abstract. H Appl Ecol. shrunk

Ana Carneiro (BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK) and colleagues have published open access in the Journal of Applied Ecology on new developments in mapping the distribution of Southern Ocean seabirds.

The paper’s abstract follows

“1. The identification of geographic areas where the densities of animals are highest across their annual cycles is a crucial step in conservation planning.  In marine environments, however, it can be particularly difficult to map the distribution of species, and the methods used are usually biased towards adults, neglecting the distribution of other life-history stages even though they can represent a substantial proportion of the total population.

2. Here we develop a methodological framework for estimating population-level density distributions of seabirds, integrating tracking data across the main life-history stages (adult breeders and non-breeders, juveniles and immatures).  We incorporate demographic information (adult and juvenile/immature survival, breeding frequency and success, age at first breeding) and phenological data (average timing of breeding and migration) to weight distribution maps according to the proportion of the population represented by each life-history stage.

3. We demonstrate the utility of this framework by applying it to 22 species of albatrosses and petrels that are of conservation concern due to interactions with fisheries.  Because juveniles, immatures and non-breeding adults account for 47–81% of all individuals of the populations analysed, ignoring the distributions of birds in these stages leads to biased estimates of overlap with threats, and may misdirect management and conservation efforts. Population-level distribution maps using only adult distributions underestimated exposure to longline fishing effort by 18–42%, compared with overlap scores based on data from all life-history stages.

4. Synthesis and applications.  Our framework synthesizes and improves on previous approaches to estimate seabird densities at sea, is applicable for data-poor situations, and provides a standard and repeatable method that can be easily updated as new tracking and demographic data become available.  We provide scripts in the R language and a Shiny app to facilitate future applications of our approach.  We recommend that where sufficient tracking data are available, this framework be used to assess overlap of seabirds with at-sea threats such as overharvesting, fisheries bycatch, shipping, offshore industry and pollutants.  Based on such an analysis, conservation interventions could be directed towards areas where they have the greatest impact on populations.”

With thanks to Richard Phillips, British Antarctic Survey.


Carneiro, A.P.B., Pearman, E.J., Oppel, S., Clay, T.A., Phillips, R.A., Bonnet-Lebrun, A.-S. et al. 2020.  A framework for mapping the distribution of Southern Ocean seabirds across life-history stages, by integrating tracking, demography and phenology.  Journal of Applied Ecology

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 06 February 2020

The numbers are in: Midway Atoll’s latest Annual Albatross Nest Count approaches half a million breeding pairs

Counters Jan 2020 Eastern 

Five of the thirteen 2019/20 albatross counters on Eastern Island next to a WWI gun; from left: Breck Tyler, Martha Brown, Craig Marsh, Susan Scott and Caren Loebel-Fried

Photograph by Martha Brown

Totals of 446 791 occupied nests of Laysan Albatrosses Phoebastria immutabilis and 23 373 of Black-footed Albatrosses P. nigripes were counted on the USA’s Midway Atoll to give an overall total of 470 164 for the current 2019/20 breeding season (to which can be added a single Short-tailed Albatross P. albatrus breeding pair).  Counts were made on all the islands within the atoll, Eastern, Sand and Spit, over the period 15 December 2019 to 3 January 2020.

“Since 1994, yearly censuses of the planet's largest albatross colony provide crucial information to assess the long-term albatross population trends and ultimately the productive health of the ocean.  As Wisdom has proven, albatrosses are long-lived species and can skip a year of breeding.  Sexual maturity typically occurs at 8-10 years of age.  The counters worked very hard through the holidays covering by foot approximately 1,549 acres [627 ha].  After completing the census, these bird counters built aviaries and participated in invasive plant removal, marine debris clean-ups, mapping Bonin Petrel [Pterodroma hypoleuca] burrow densities, and out-planting of native plants in restoration areas.”

Laysan Albatross Pair by James Lloyd

A Laysan Albatross pair on Midway Atoll, photograph by James Lloyd

"January 2019 grand total active nest was 619,880; Laysan albatross: 593,664, the second highest count on record and black-footed albatross: 26,108. This year, the count revealed a 25% decrease of Laysan albatross active nests and a 10% for black-footed albatross. On December 29, 2019 a dramatic high water event occurred, causing a near complete wash-over of the islet Spit and a devastating 90% loss of Spit’s albatross nests."

The annual albatross census is conducted with the financial help of the Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and other donors.  Information and photograph from FOMA’s Facebook page.

Read more about this season’s volunteer counters here.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 05 February 2020

Ocean Sentinel: albatrosses can identify illegal fishing vessels in the Southern Ocean by detecting their radar emissions


Wandering Albatross at sea, photograph by Kirk Zufelt

Henri Weimerskirch (Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Villiers en Bois, France) and colleagues have published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) on using Wandering Diomedea exulans and Amsterdam D. amsterdamensis albatrosses to identify the presence of fishing vessels.

The paper’s abstract follows

“With threats to nature becoming increasingly prominent, in order for biodiversity levels to persist, there is a critical need to improve implementation of conservation measures. In the oceans, the surveillance of fisheries is complex and inadequate, such that quantifying and locating nondeclared and illegal fisheries is persistently problematic.  Given that these activities dramatically impact oceanic ecosystems, through overexploitation of fish stocks and bycatch of threatened species, innovative ways to monitor the oceans are urgently required. Here, we describe a concept of “Ocean Sentinel” using animals equipped with state-of-the-art loggers which monitor fisheries in remote areas.  Albatrosses fitted with loggers detecting and locating the presence of vessels and transmitting the information immediately to authorities allowed an estimation of the proportion of nondeclared fishing vessels operating in national and international waters of the Southern Ocean.  We found that in international waters, more than one-third of vessels had no Automatic Identification System operating; in national Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), this proportion was lower on average, but variable according to EEZ.  Ocean Sentinel was also able to provide unpreceded information on the attraction of seabirds to vessels, giving access to crucial information for risk-assessment plans of threatened species.  Attraction differed between species, age, and vessel activity. Fishing vessels attracted more birds than other vessels, and juveniles both encountered fewer vessels and showed a lower attraction to vessels than adults.  This study shows that the development of technologies offers the potential of implementing conservation policies by using wide-ranging seabirds to patrol oceans.”

Read a popular account of the study (and another here).


Weimerskirch, H., Collet, J., Corbeau, A., Pajot, A., Hoarau, F., Marteau, C., Filippi, D. & Patrick, S.C. 2020.  Ocean sentinel albatrosses locate illegal vessels and provide the first estimate of the extent of nondeclared Ocean sentinel albatrosses locate illegal vessels and provide the first estimate of the extent of nondeclared fishing.  PNAS -Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 03 February 2020

Bird Island in the South Atlantic gets its WAD2020 Banner out again for the summer

LMSAL RH AD 160120 RH Small

Rosie Hall and Alex Dodds (new Albatross Zoological Field Assistant) with a Light-mantled Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata on its nest behind, photograph by Rosie Hall

Back in September last year, British Antarctic Survey’s Albatross Zoological Field Assistant Rosie Hall on Bird Island in the South Atlantic made a World Albatross Day banner out of an old mattress cover and took it out into the field to photograph in front of a Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans chick (click here).  Problem is Wanderer chicks in September are largely covered in white down, so they do not stand out well against the snow that was blanketing the ground at the time.  However, last month, with no more snow on the ground, Rosie and her colleagues on the island displayed their banner next to some of the summer-breeding albatrosses for another round of photographs.

BLBAL AD 160120 RH Small

Alex Dodds with breeding Black-browed Albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris, photograph by Rosie Hall

BLBAL RO RH 160120 FB Small

Rachael Orben (Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University) and Rosie Hall with Black-browed Albatrosses, photograph by Freya Blockley

It is planned to use her photos, along with those from the other islands where WAD2020 banners have been photographed (click here) to make a poster which will be freely available for downloading from the WORLD ALBATROSS DAY section, accessible from this website’s home page.  The new section will be populated with photographs, artwork, species summaries, educational games and activities, posters and more over the next several weeks.

With thanks to Rosie Hall.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 04 February 2020

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