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Efforts to stop the critically-endangered albatross from declining

Ōtepoti – Population numbers of the world’s biggest sea bird, the critically endangered Antipodean albatross, are declining about five percent every year.

The latest population modelling, carried out by Dragonfly Data Science, shows the Antipodean albatross population, classified as nationally critical, is dwindling with an estimated 3200 breeding pairs, but under the projected decline, only about 400 pairs may remain in 2050.

The current decline in numbers means that over three generations the Antipodean albatross will be on the verge of extinction if action is not taken.

Because albatrosses feed on fish near the surface, they are vulnerable to being caught on fishing lines or in nets.

Government has a plan to reduce domestic bycatch to zero and they are funding a wider roll-out of cameras on inshore fishing vessels.

The Department of Conservation is DOC is involved in albatross research and is part of international efforts to reduce bycatch.

New Zealand is the albatross capital of the world, with 17 species found across New Zealand waters and territories, and 11 species breeding here.

There are currently about 75 tracked Antipodean albatross, in the third year of a project funded by DOC, the Ministry for Primary Industries, Albatross Research, Live Ocean and the Southern Seabirds Solution Trust.

Methods fishers can use on their vessels to keep birds away from the danger zones include bird-scaring lines, line weighting, hook-shielding devices, fishing at night and managing fish waste to avoid attracting birds.

Albatross feed by searching the sea surface for dead squid and fish. Many have learnt that fishing vessels offer an easy food source and follow them, feeding on fish bait and scraps.

Scientists are concerned that because many hundreds of fishing boats are setting lines around the world the total numbers caught may be having an impact on some populations.

In 1990, it was estimated that a million seabirds were drowned in drift nets each year.

Albatrosses are the world’s largest seabirds. They spend at least 85 percent of their lives at sea returning to land (usually remote islands) to breed and raise their young.

Royal albatrosses are some of the longest-lived birds in the world, regularly living into their 40s. One bird at Taiaroa on the Otago Peninsula known as Grandma, raised her last chick at the age of 62.

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