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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 November, 2004, 05:12 GMT
Satellites track albatross flight
Wandering albatross   Tony Palliser/BirdLife International
The wandering albatross (Image:Tony Palliser/BirdLife International)
A satellite tracking project has shown the locations where albatrosses come into conflict with trawlers.

Data on the movements of 16 albatrosses and three petrel species was collated by Birdlife International.

Its report, Tracking Ocean Wanderers, identifies the ocean hotspots where the birds tend to congregate.

About 300,000 seabirds, including 100,000 albatrosses, are thought to be killed each year when they are hooked on the longlines of fishing boats.

It is hoped the information can be used by fishing fleets to tailor their activities so that they do least harm to the birds.

"This report shows the variation throughout the year - there are particular times when it is critical for the birds to be in certain areas," said Cleo Small, of the international marine policy office at BirdLife, an alliance of conservation groups.

"Fisheries can now be more sophisticated; they will know that in certain months in particular places they will need to take more care."

Long journeys

The hotspots where both longliners and large numbers of seabirds cross paths include the waters around New Zealand and South-East Australia, the South-West Indian Ocean, South Atlantic and North Pacific.

It brings together real data for the first time to show us where these gravely threatened birds are roving the oceans
Prince Charles
The study also emphasised the importance of coastal shelf areas for albatrosses and petrels while breeding, and of highly productive oceanic regions such as the Humboldt Current, the Patagonian Shelf, the Antarctic Polar Frontal Zone, and the Benguela Current.

It identified differences in foraging areas used by breeding and non-breeding adults, and young and mature birds.

And the project underlined the huge distances travelled on migration by some of these majestic birds.

The northern royal albatross, for example, flies up to 1,800km in 24 hours, and the grey-headed albatross can circle the globe in 42 days.

Concern for the welfare of these ocean birds - all 21 albatross species are officially classed as under global threat of extinction - has prompted interested nations to sign up to a treaty.

Pirate vessels

The parties to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACap) are meeting for the first time, in Tasmania, this week.

The treaty requires signatory states to implement conservation measures.

Albatross, Birdlife
Longlines are pulling albatross numbers down rapidly
John Croxall, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey, said: "The data, and the results presented in this report, will be of immense assistance in developing the work of the new ACap."

The Prince of Wales, who is a keen supporter of albatross conservation, has also commended the work of the project.

"It brings together real data for the first time to show us where these gravely threatened birds are roving the oceans, enabling us to identify where they are most vulnerable and to safeguard their critical habitat," he said.

Although the data will help legitimate fisheries modify practices for the benefit of sea birds, there exist many pirate boats on the world's oceans which work outside international law.

The pirates are thought to account for one third of seabird deaths by longlining. Efforts to conserve the albatross have somehow to constrain this activity too.

Albatrosses get prince's protection
15 Nov 04 |  Science/Nature
Albatrosses to benefit from pact
17 Nov 03 |  Science/Nature
Albatrosses face growing peril
06 Sep 03 |  Science/Nature
Hopes rise for albatrosses
08 May 03 |  Science/Nature


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