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Last Updated: Friday, 7 October 2005, 00:15 GMT 01:15 UK
Backing for albatross campaign
Sir David said that albatrosses are not able to cope with man-made threats

The broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough is the latest public figure to back saving the albatross.

Sir David has given his backing to an RSPB and BirdLife International project which trains fishermen in albatross- friendly fishing techniques.

He is joined by organisers of the Volvo Ocean Race; existing supporters include Prince Charles and Ellen MacArthur.

An estimated 100,000 albatrosses die each year on hooks of longline fishing boats; most species face extinction.

Marine animals such as turtles are also snared accidentally on the hooks of longline vessels which are hunting for tuna, marlin and other large fish.

They trail lines can be 130km (80 miles) long, with hooks every few metres.

The birds swoop down to pick up bait from the hooks, become snared, and drown.

"Albatrosses have survived in the harshest marine environments for 50 million years, more than 100 times longer than our own species," said Sir David, vice-president of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

"However, these magnificent birds are unable to cope with man-made threats, such as longline fishing."

Facing extinction

So dire is the situation that 19 of the 21 albatross species are facing extinction.

Yet what Sir David terms "this needless slaughter" can be avoided by the use of fishing methods which do not harm the birds.

Wandering albatross   Tony Palliser/BirdLife International
The wandering albatross (Image:Tony Palliser/BirdLife International)
These include fishing at night, weighting the lines so they stay below the surface, and trailing streamers which float in the air above the lines, scaring the birds away.

Through their programme Operation Ocean Task Force, BirdLife International and its UK partner the RSPB hope to place trained personnel aboard longline fishing boats to teach fishermen these simple techniques.

They say that the fishermen benefit too, as less of their bait is wasted. The programme has not as yet placed any personnel aboard a vessel.

The charities are setting up a website, www.savethealbatross.net, to raise funds.

Ocean wanderers

Last year, trailblazing yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur lent her backing to the campaign, and spoke of the relief which sighting an albatross could bring to a lone sailor far from home.

This theme was echoed by Glenn Bourke, chief executive of the Volvo Ocean Race, which has just announced its endorsement of the albatross plan.

Ellen MacArthur, AP

"As a racing sailor myself, I cannot imagine the loneliness of crossing the southern ocean without being accompanied by these fellow voyagers," he said.

"Yet, within the lifetime of many sailors - perhaps even my own - that will be the case if we don't act now."

The Volvo race starts next month from Spain, and is scheduled to finish next June in Sweden.

The RSPB points out that by that time, another 60,000 albatrosses will have died on the hooks of longline boats.


SEE ALSO:
Punters bet on an albatross race
02 May 05 |  Asia-Pacific
MacArthur gives albatross support
27 Apr 05 |  Science/Nature
Tracking reveals albatross habits
14 Jan 05 |  Science/Nature


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