Thousands of albatrosses die needlessly every year as the victims of longling fishing. They are attracted to the baited hooks, get caught and are dragged under the water and drown.
Fishermen are often unaware of the simple, cost effective techniques that when used rapidly reduce albatross deaths.
In 2005, along with a number of our BirdLife International partners, the Albatross Task Force was formed. These men and women are the world's first international team of skilled, at-sea instructors.
Since their formation, there have been a dramatic reduction in the numbers of albatross and other seabirds killed. This is a sure sign that Albatross Task Force members really are getting something practical done to help save albatrosses from extinction.
This blog follows the trials and tribulations of the Albatross Task Force as they work onshore and at sea, spreading the message about these life-saving techniques.
On a recent trip in early June, we had a few extra “little crew members” join us. Four pintado petrels joined us on the vessel when they got entangled with some of the fishing gear and got a bit greasy. Washing, feeding and caring for these four little birds proved to be an excellent platform for me to teach many of the crew onboard the vessel a few of the very important facts relating to seabird biology and their survival.
First came the washing and one of the crew had to help me clean two of the birds. Through this I was able to explain to some of the crew around us (and even later during the trip) how important the waterproofing of their feathers is. I related this to us taking a shower and washing all the natural oils off our bodies, the same way I was washing these birds, but that unlike us having our natural oils restored by the next day, they could take up to a week or two to be waterproof (or naturally oiled) again. I was also able to explain that the waterproofing is like an invisible bubble around their bodies keeping them dry, that it is vital to their survival and that without it they could die of hypothermia.
Then when it came time to feed and hydrate the pintados, I needed more help and many more of the crew got involved in this process. Many of the crew had never been up close to a seabird before and now I was sitting in-front of them holding one in my hands. I was able to show them that these birds, although wild, are fragile and needed to be handled with care. They learnt that although these birds sit on the sea surface and feed at their own free will, if they are injured or being cared for like these ones, they have to be tube fed, they will not pick up a piece of fish put in front of them.
The entire crew was totally awe struck by these four little visitors and very happily got involved in trying to save them in any way that they could. I was so touched by the genuine concern and interest shown by these tough, hardy men for such small little creatures. It was very difficult caring for these birds and I couldn’t have done it without the fantastic support of everyone onboard.
Hi everyone, I'm writing to explain about how I've been spending the last few months on an important activity for all Task Force teams - helping to train local fishery observers. I've been working with the local Fisheries Institute (Instituto de Fomento Pesquero, IFOP) to develop workshops for observers working onboard trawl, purse seine and longline vessels. IFOP is the Institute that works with the Chilean government to collect all information related to fisheries activities from all the fleets that work along the coast.
Basically, the courses consist of modules on seabird identification, an introduction to the biology and ecology of seabirds, protocols on the collection of relevant information to help identify where albatross and petrels are interacting with the fisheries and discussions about the different methods used to protect the most vulnerable seabirds. We believe that this process will not only be beneficial for the personal development of many of the observers, but will act as a lasting legacy in Chile and help the future generations of observers to include seabird training as standard within their routine work programmes.
As a result of this work, the coordinators in Chile will now meet twice a year - in Punta Arenas in the far south of Chile and in Talcahuano in the central southern zone. In these ports the observers from different fleets including deep-sea longline and trawl vessel, some of the most important areas and fisheries for albatross conservation.
This results from a joint project between the ATF and IFOP with funding support from the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatross and Petrels (ACAP). We've been developing the onboard data collection protocols, which will be used to register the number of birds impacted by the different fisheries and during the various fishing operations. At the same time, we have been working closely with the data managers to include the new forms and protocols in the existing databases and therefore complete the process.
This is an important step and a valuable collaboration between ourselves, IFOP observers and supported by ACAP to generate crucial information on seabird interactions across fleets in the south of Chile. It is no small thing either; the observers already have a heavy schedule onboard, collecting a range of information about the fishery resources including operational data and biological samples. To ensure that these new protocols run smoothly, I've been working onboard the industrial trawl fleet to demonstrate the best practice methods for data collection. These vessels typically spend around 7 to 10 days at sea and are based at the port of Talcahuano at 37° south.
The last two months have been quite hectic. The work has been great fun and really rewarding capped by a really good sea trip at the end of May. I continued with the tori line experiments that I have been doing for the last nine months. This work has proved to be really successful showing fishermen that tori lines are really effective mitigation measures in trawl fisheries in Namibia. So far we have not had a single seabird/gear interaction while flying tori lines.
On my last sea trip bird densities were again high now that the breeding season is over and the birds have come across from their breeding colonies on South Georgia, Gough, Marion and the islands around New Zealand. The nutrient rich foraging grounds in the Benguela Current are a real attraction during the winter months. Namibian waters are now heaving with hungry birds which, of course means this is also the time when interactions are highest with fisheries so it is vital that we are out working with the industry to incorporate mitigation measures. This is proving relatively easy in Namibia as each new vessel I go to sea with, the crew are all positive and want tori lines to use on all their fishing trips.
On my last trip I had a new experience when a juvenile Atlantic Yellow-nosed albatross landed on the forecastle deck and couldn’t gain enough of a run-up to take off again. It is not often that one gets to handle such a magnificent bird alive. With the assistance of the crew I put a ring on this bird to help identify that it survived its ordeal and released it again. This was a real privilege for me. It was probably the first albatross ringed in Namibian waters.
After that trip I took part in a briefing with the fishing industry at senior management level where I was able to update them on our work and major findings. The response was as good as we could hope for as they showed great interest in our work and expressed a desire to voluntarily adopt best practice mitigation measures in the trawl fishery. This is a really positive attitude and we will be working closely with the industry to make sure that all the correct instructions are in place to build and deploy mitigation according to specification. This will mean training workshops and practical demonstrations over the weeks to come on many of the vessels. A busy and interesting period lies ahead.