September, 2010

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Albatross Task Force

At sea and on land, we're working hard to keep the world's albatross populations afloat. Find out how.
  • 400th Day at sea


    Tori line support poleDuring my last trip I continued experimenting with the Uruguayan ATF tori lines that we are developing, trying to obtain a greater set of results so we can be certain of what solutions to recommend to industry. 

    This brought up a personal milestone, achieving my 400th day at sea! I started as a sailor, then worked as an observer and keep adding to my total through the Task Force work. 

    The trip set out from Port Paloma which is situated on the east coast of Uruguay. The first couple of days I tested out the equipment and set up the new tori line support pole. On the second day we started fishing and so I commenced the trials, the fishing was good which helps keep moral high. 

    The plan was to fish for 20 days or so, but bad weather meant that the captain had to turn the vessel toward the port and head back in. The wind got up to Beaufort Scale 10 with the forecast looking grim for several more days. As the trip was cut short we only squeezed in four sets, for half of which I used the tori lines as the experiment stipulates. 

    Despite heavy abundance of albatrosses during this time, especially the Great albatrosses and Giant petrels plus Black-browed and masses of Cape petrels, there were no birds killed. On one occasion a Black-browed albatross became entangled with the gear as the crew hauled in the hooks. I was quickly able to free the hook, taking care with the sharp beak and keeping the bird calm so it didn’t damage itself whilst on deck. 

    The experimental work is tough; we spend 15 or 16 hours a day on deck to ensure we record everything correctly during the entire fishing operation. The results should be worth it though and I am now the storm has passed I am preparing the next trip to continue the experiment.


  • All greased up and nowhere to go!


    Royal albatross scavenge fish discards

    The other night, while onboard a stern trawl vessel, I found a Thin-billed prion on deck. These birds don’t often come close enough to the fishing vessels that you can get a good look at them so it was really interesting to find one. It had flown into the side of the bridge in the blustery weather we have in the South of Argentina.

    This not only caused issues for the prion, but also for me. Our best observation platform for work on the trawl vessels is several metres above the aft deck between gantries where the nets are stowed. We spend a lot of time there to collect data on the interactions with the trawl cables but in really rough weather it can get pretty tricky

    To avoid being flipped out into the stormy sea, I built a harness which I used to strap myself into a nest of nets and ropes. Secure and with the best view of the trawl operation I carried on through the worst of the weather. We had a lot of bird activity, commonly recording Giant petrels alighting on the nets as the crew hauled them in. In contrast the Royal albatross stay back away from the nets, paddling in the water and using their huge size to intimidate the other birds away from the fishery scraps. 

    Feeling pleased with my harness, I worked my way along the deck one morning to take up my position amongst the stowed nets just to find a shock: everything was thick with grease! One of the pipes used to lubricate the enormous trawl blocks (that support the trawl cables) had burst, pumping thick grease exactly where I had set up my observation deck. 

    I ended up covered in grease, sliding about on top of the nets like a comical ice-skater – I must have looked like I was dancing! It took me ages to sort it out and get back to my routine. Not a pretty sight.. 

    After 35 days at-sea we began one of the most pleasing moments of sea time, arriving in port. This had been one of my best trips so far as within the crew there was a lot of collaboration and support that made the hard work more enjoyable.

    Until next time,



  • Marion Island trip


    Tristan Chick

    After many years of waiting, my dream finally came true...I got given the opportunity to go to Marion Island! The three week trip was to take a construction team down to put the finishing touches on the new base.

    The voyage up to the island took 6 days and included two that were very stormy, true August weather in the Southern Oceans. During my days at sea I spent my time in the monkey island or bridge counting any seabirds passing the vessel, as part of the AS@S project (Atlas of Seabirds at Sea). I encountered 23 different species, 11 of which were ‘lifers’ for me!

    Some of these species included the blue petrel, sooty albatross (dark and light-mantled), grey-headed albatross and many wandering albatrosses. Once we arrived at the island and caught my first helicopter flight, all the exciting work started!

    I was able to go to two different parts of the island, falling into mires all along the way, and trudging at quite an angle (due the wind strength) through the snow. During this time I helped one of the birders, ring and measure the northern giant petrels. This had to be done as quickly as possible to avoid disturbing the birds unnecessarily but it was incredible to be able to be so close to the birds I work with on a daily basis.

    We also took a trip up to Ship’s Cove to see the King and Gentoo penguins on the only sandy beach of the island. Here we watched three sooty albatrosses soaring along the cliff edges – what an amazing sight!

    I also joined the team on a night birding excursion to Nellie’s Hump, to count birds flying, using a spotlight, in 5 minute periods. Nothing could prepare you for such an incredible experience and no words can describe what I have seen, but my favourite part was seeing the wandering albatross chicks on their nest and strengthening (flapping) their huge wings for flight.