Albatrosses and petrels are magnificent seabirds, many species of which live in the Southern Ocean. They are both migratory birds that can travel long distances. They are not only majestic and beautiful but are also vital to the Southern Ocean ecosystem.
For hundreds of years sailors in the Southern Ocean have observed and respected the albatross and the petrel. Albatrosses have even been considered to be the souls of lost sailors. Albatrosses and petrels can spend a majority of their time out at sea, but must come back to breed and lay eggs on land.
While albatrosses and petrels can withstand the demands of the harsh Antarctic and sub-Antarctic environments, they are facing numerous human-induced threats that are putting their longterm survival at risk.
These threats include pollution, hunting and poaching for eggs, meat and feathers, habitat destruction, introduction of non-native predators and longline fishing methods. These threats are putting some species of the birds at risk for extinction.
Longline fishing is the biggest human induced threat facing albatrosses and petrels. Longline fishing is a popular method of fishing that is used in the Southern Ocean to obtain high quantities of bluefin tuna, ling, snapper, hoki and Patagonian toothfish. The way that longlining works is that fishermen set out a single line up to 130 km long behind their boat and attaches to the line thousands of baited hooks.
Once the longlines are sunk they do not affect the birds but while floating behind the boats albatrosses and petrels try and take the bait but may end up swallowing the hook and then drowning. According to Bird Life International more then 300,000 seabirds are killed by longline fishing every year, including 100,000 albatrosses. 17 species of albatrosses that are already endangered are now threatened by extinction due to the significant number of deaths brought about by longline fishing.
ASOC is gravely concerned about the survival of these species and seeks to support the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) to better protect them. ACAP is a multilateral agreement, which seeks to protect albatrosses and petrels by coordinating international activity to mitigate threats to albatross and petrel populations. ACAP was developed under the auspices of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). ACAP currently has 13 member countries and covers 29 species albatrosses and petrels
So far there have been 3 Meetings of the Parties (MoP), which is when the decision-making body of the Agreement comes together. ASOC is encouraged by the progress these meetings have made (read our reports on the meetings here).
There are solutions to the threats facing albatrosses and petrels. One of the most obvious solutions is to just prevent birds from swallowing baited hooks before they sink. Modifying the long ling fishing wires that fishermen have been using can do this.
These modifications could be installing bird-scaring lines and streamers, weighted lines to reduce the amount of time that the lines stay above water, setting lines at night to avoid prime albatross and petrel feeding time and to implement seasonal closures to avoid fishing when seabirds are more susceptible to being caught (breeding and nesting time).
Fisheries that have implemented these measures, such as the toothfish/Chilean sea bass fisheries around Antarctica, have been able to reduce their seabird bycatch to near zero. Still, until illegal fishing operators, who are not bound to use these measures, are stopped, these species will continue to be threatened.It is very important to act now before it's too late. In a recent assessment it was found that one of the world's most formerly abundant albatrosses, the black-brown albatross, has declined by more than 40% in the last 30 years!