Satellite trace finds birds' danger spots
By Ed Stoddard
The New Zealand Herald
12th November 2004
Satellite tracking has pinpointed parts of the world where longline fishing trawlers and albatrosses cross paths, often with fatal results for the majestic sea birds.
More than 300,000 seabirds, including 100,000 albatrosses, are believed to drown each year because they are lured by baited hooks and pulled under water.
"Identifying areas where albatrosses and fishermen overlap is a crucial conservation step," said Cleo Small, international marine policy officer at BirdLife International.
The report, Tracking Ocean Wanderers, was collated by the British BirdLife International and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
It uses satellite tracking on 16 species of albatross and three petrel species, all endangered by commercial and pirate longline fishing fleets.
It identifies hot spots where longliners and large numbers of seabirds are found in waters around New Zealand and southeast Australia, the southwest Indian Ocean, the south Atlantic and the north Pacific.
Conservationists say longliners can use simple measures to reduce seabird mortality.
"They can thaw out their bait, which will then sink faster and not attract birds, or they can attach weights to sink the bait," said BirdLife's Richard Thomas.
He said Brazilian fishermen used a colourful but effective technique of dying their bait two shades of blue.
Birds tend not to see blue, but fish do. The first dye keeps the birds away but is water soluble and bleaches after the bait sinks.
This leaves a fat-soluble blue dye which makes the bait more attractive to the fish, so fishermen and birds win.
Albatrosses are slow breeders, so there are fears that longliners are killing some species faster than they can reproduce.
All 21 albatross species are classed as under threat of extinction.
The elegant white gliders are famed for their large wingspan and the long ocean journeys they make.
The wandering albatross has a wingspan of up to 4m, the broadest in the world.
The report also highlighted the huge distances travelled by some species during migration.
The northern royal albatross can fly up to 1800km in 24 hours and the grey-headed albatross can circle the globe in 42 days.
More than 300,000 seabirds - a third of them albatrosses - are believed to drown each year when they are lured by baited hooks and pulled underwater.
A study of satellite data identifies hot spots - including waters around New Zealand and southeast Australia - where longliners and large numbers of seabirds are found.
Longliners can use simple measures to reduce seabird mortality.