Birds

Persecution of ocean migrants

Bird Island’s “modern wandering albatross” journey is entering the next phase! If you’ve followed #AlbatrossStories, you may remember one of our last blogs where we thought about it, “What’s it like to be a modern wandering albatross?”- this refers to our own Albatross star family, Sitka, Ernest and their charming chick Nova. Sitka participated in a Darwin Plus project led by BirdLife International and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to understand what migratory albatrosses do when foraging on the high seas and, crucially, how they interact with fishing vessels .

Alexandra Dodds, Albatross Zoological Field Assistant at BAS on the island, has attached and accessed the radar data loggers of 30 people. Alex explains the study here:

The project aims to “connect areas frequently visited by migratory albatrosses and detect ships by radar equipment to understand the interactions of tracked migratory albatrosses with legal and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels (BAS research project). . In addition to studying the breeding of adults during chick rearing, the project also investigates where adults who take a year off from breeding and young adults look for food. “

Why do we need to know more about how albatross interacts with fishing vessels? Albatrosses are foragers, especially opportunistic foragers, meaning they search the oceans for signs of food (using their acute sense of smell) and follow signs indicating an abundant piece of sea for their dinner. For an albatross, fishing vessels look like an all-you-can-eat buffet and shouldn’t be missing! Unfortunately, this is where the greatest threat to almost all 22 albatross species in the oceans begins. Longline fishing boats use thousands of bait hooks that are far too tempting for any albatross. If a bird grabs the bait, it can also be impaled from the hook and pulled underwater. This is known as random mortality – or Bycatch! Coupled with deaths from trawling, which involves pulling a large net behind the ship that often entangles seabirds, it is believed that bycatch incidents kill ~ 100,000 albatrosses each year. Projects like this generate further insight into where these incidents are most likely to occur and help understand the scale of IUU fishing vessels.

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Alex continues …

“During the winter months of the southern hemisphere in July and August, the migratory albatross parents do a 9 day foraging to gather food for their ever-growing chicks. It is also during these months that fishing activities are at their peak, both in national waters and in the areas of the high seas used by birds. This winter on Bird Island, 30 devices consist of: A GPS radar, an accelerometer (to determine activity and behavior), and an immersion logger (to determine when the birds are in the water, which indicates feeding) have been used in adults Used by breeders. Travel times range from a few days to a few weeks, but it took two tagged birds an entire month to collect food for their chicks! Different areas of the ocean were used by different people, with some not far from South Georgia while others traveled as far as the Brazilian coast – 3000 km away! The tracking project provides unprecedented detail not only about each individual’s foraging areas, but also about where and for how long they interact with fishing vessels. We can even find out the names of many vessels by comparing their movements (using Global Fishing Watch’s satellite AIS signal monitoring with the birds’ radar detections).

 CAPTION: This picture shows the journey of Sitka, our #AlbatrossStories super mom, who flew all the way to the Brazilian coast to find food for Nova. She flew a round trip of around 10,500 km in 16 days!

Albatrosses are some of the oldest living wild birds in the world; A northern royal albatross nicknamed “Grandma” in Taiaroa Colony, New Zealand, was thought to live to the old age of 62. There is currently a Laysan albatross named “Wisdom” around 68 (and still breeding!) On Midway Atoll in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. During this long lifespan, 90% of their time is spent at sea, time on land is minimal and only for breeding and rearing their chicks. Now that the satellite loggers have been retrieved, the team can begin analyzing the data for further insight into the migratory albatrosses and life at sea.


Follow #AlbatrossStories on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. and send us your own stories about what our albatross stars are all going up and down on Bird Island.

If you want to support the work of the Albatross Task Force, you can become a friend of the AlbatrossSupporting projects such as educating fishermen about the importance of bird protection lines that keep Sitka and many others away from the dangers of fishing hooks.

Albatross Stories is funded by the Darwin Initiative, the South Georgia Heritage Trust, and Friends of South Georgia Island.

Photos: Alex Dodds and British Antarctic Survey

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