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Te Papa scientists study sea birds

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 16/06/2017

A study involving scientists from France, England and New Zealand may help the threatened Antipodean albatross and its interactions with fishing boats.

About 300,000 seabirds are killed annually in longline fishing, including endangered species such as the albatross.

Albatrosses are one of the most threatened families of birds internationally, with 15 of the 22 species in the group threatened with extinction.

A study was commissioned in 2015, authored by Henri Weimerskirch and Julien Collet from the Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chize, France, Samantha Patrick from the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Liverpool, Dominique Filippi of Sextant Technology, and Susan Waugh from Te Papa.

It tagged 53 albatrosses with GPS on Possession Island in the southern Indian Ocean, as the large seabird is a well-known ship follower and have been impacted by their encounters with fishing boats.

"We can detect changes in foraging behaviour triggered by the presence of fishing vessels," Ms Waugh says.

The research found that during breeding, tagged wandering albatrosses patrolled over an area of more than 10 million square kilometres and as much as 79 per cent of birds equipped with the GPS detected vessels at distances up to 2500km from the colony.

These results challenged perceptions of foraging behaviour of albatross, Ms Waugh said.

"This high rate of encounter shows that a far higher proportion of the population are exposed to fisheries mortality risk than previously supposed," Ms Waugh said.

It's a new way of looking at fisheries' risk to seabirds, she said, which could lead to positive ways the industry interact with seabirds.

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