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Counting big birds from space

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 5/05/2017

File photo of an&nbsp;<span style="color:#333333;font-size:13px;background-color:#ebebe4;">albatross and a chick</span> © Getty Images File photo of an albatross and a chick Scientists are counting individual albatross from space.

Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and Canterbury Museum are using high-resolution satellite images to count the endangered birds at New Zealand's Chatham Islands, including on rocky outcrops, without going there.

In the past, researchers have used aircraft or manually counted birds on the ground, both of which are expensive, time-consuming and can disrupt the birds.

The population of the northern royal albatross on the remote Chatham Islands has been hard to count because the breeding grounds are so remote.

The study published in Ibis found numbers are stable on one inaccessible island, but have declined dramatically on another.

"This is a major conservation concern for this globally-endangered albatross species," said Professor Paul Scofield, Canterbury Museum's senior curator natural history and a co-author of the study.

The technique developed by the scientists is expected to be used elsewhere to give real-time information about the status of endangered species.

The scientists used the new WorldView-3 satellite, which can see objects larger than 30cm.

The team developed and tested the accuracy of the satellite-method by counting individuals on a well-studied colony of wandering albatross on South Georgia, a remote island southeast of Argentina in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

They then applied it to the northern royal albatross.

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