Black-browed Albatross Juvenile Tracking

Black-browed Albatross Juvenile Tracking

Start date
1 April, 2021
End date
1 February, 2022

Until the last decade, South Georgia held the third largest population of black-browed albatrosses at any island group (Phillips et al. 2016) [4]. However, assuming trends at surveyed sites are representative (Poncet et al. 2017) [1], numbers will have nearly halved overall from over 100,000 pairs in 1985 to just 54,000 pairs in 2021.

Although the species is not listed as globally threatened, this decrease is so rapid that the South Georgia birds are listed as one of just ten Priority Populations for conservation, worldwide, by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), and a Conservation Action Plan has been developed by the South Georgia Government. Analyses of monitoring data on individual ringed birds at Bird Island indicate that the long-term population decline was related mainly to low adult survival, which correlates with annual changes in longline or trawl fishing effort within their at-sea distribution, and that low juvenile survival and poor breeding success, partly attributable to climatic variation, compounded the problem (Pardo et al. 2017) [2].

Incidental mortality (bycatch) of seabirds has been reduced to negligible levels in fisheries operating around South Georgia because of regulations introduced under the
Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), and so the local black-browed albatrosses are now safe during the breeding season except on rare trips to the Patagonian Shelf. Nonbreeding adults travel mainly to southern Africa, and a small proportion to the Patagonian Shelf or Australasia (Phillips et al. 2005) [3]. Bycatch rates in South African and Namibian fisheries are also much lower than in previous decades after concerted efforts by national fisheries bodies and BirdLife International (Rocha et al. 2021) [5]. However, elsewhere in the southern hemisphere, bycatch is still a major threat (Phillips et al., 2016) [4]. The distribution of juvenile and immature black-browed albatrosses is poorly known, and ringing recoveries suggest they range more widely than the adults. They may therefore be killed in fisheries in other regions. In addition, little is known about survival after fledging, which is a critical period for many seabirds.

In April 2021, 19 satellite-tags (PTTs) made by Telonics (TAV-2630) were attached to black-browed albatross chicks prior to their departure from Bird Island. The birds are being tracked in near real-time using the Argos system, and their locations shown on the following map (note that the PTTs duty cycle at 8 hours on and 43 hours off).

Click on a track to find out how far the bird has gone from Bird Island.

Funding for devices was obtained from the South Georgia Heritage Trust and Friends of South Georgia Island.

Further reading

[1] Poncet, S., Wolfaardt, A.C., Black, A., Browning, S., Lawton, K., Lee, J., Passfield, K., Strange, G. and Phillips, R.A. (2017). Recent trends in numbers of wandering (Diomedea exulans), black-browed (Thalassarche melanophris) and grey-headed (T. chrysostoma) albatrosses breeding at South Georgia. Polar Biology 40, 1347-1358.

[2] Pardo, D., Forcada, J., Wood, A.G., Tuck, G.N., Ireland, L., Pradel, R., J.P. Croxall and Phillips, R.A. (2017). Additive effects of climate and fisheries drive catastrophic declines in multiple albatross species. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the Unites States of America 114, E10829-E10837.

[3] Phillips, R.A., Silk, J.R.D., Croxall, J.P., Afanasyev, V. and Bennett, V.J. (2005). Summer distribution and migration of nonbreeding albatrosses: individual consistencies and implications for conservation. Ecology 81, 2386-2396.

[4] Phillips, R.A., Gales, R., Baker, G.B., Double, M.C., Favero, M., Quintana, F., Tasker, M.L., Weimerskirch, H., Uhart, M., and Wolfaardt, A. (2016). The conservation status and priorities for albatrosses and large petrels. Biological Conservation 201, 169-183.

[5] Nina Da Rocha, Steffen Oppel, Stephanie Prince, Samantha Matjila, Titus M. Shaanika, Clemens Naomab, Oliver Yates, John R.B. Paterson, Kaspar Shimooshili, Ernest Frans, Suama Kashava, Rory Crawford (2021). Reduction in seabird mortality in Namibian fisheries following the introduction of bycatch regulation. Biological Conservation 253, 108915.

The main aims of this study are to map the distribution of juvenile black-browed albatrosses to determine overlap with fisheries and the main environmental drivers of their movements, and to assess the survival rate of juveniles in the critical months after they fledge.

Richard Phillips

Seabird Ecologist, Deputy Science Leader, IMP 3

Ecosystems team

Andy Wood

Marine Predator Ecologist

Ecosystems team

Bird Island Research Station

Bird Island Research Station is an important centre for research into bird and seal biology. Lying off the north-west tip of South Georgia, Bird Island is one of the richest …