More Albatrosses follow fishing boats than previously thought

A new study has found nearly 80 percent of albatrosses follow fishing boats looking for food which puts them at risk of dying from getting caught in fishing lines.

It found that nearly 80 percent of the birds they tracked were looking to fishing vessels for food.

The Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chize in France, the University of Liverpool, Sextant Technology and the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum were involved in the study.

A senior curator at Te Papa, Susan Waugh, said this increased the chance that albatrosses could be caught up in fishing lines and die.

“We knew before [the study], that albatrosses followed fishing boats and they often stayed behind them and some of them are killed by interacting with the fishing lines – but what we didn’t know was that it was such a high proportion,” she said.

Ms Waugh said the radars showed that albatrosses changed their flying pattern when they came close to fishing vessels, choosing to fly in zig zags or circles as opposed to their normal looping flight.

Ms Waugh said albatrosses are on the most threatened types of birds in the world with 15 of the 22 species in the group threatened with extinction.

She said New Zealand’s own wandering albatross was among those at risk.

Fifty three wandering albatrosses were fitted with XGPS radar loggers which generated the data for the report.

Ms Waugh said the radars meant researchers were now able to track seabirds into international waters where little is known about their movements.

“That’s really where it’s been a black hole for fisheries and research managers for a very long time.

“That’s where we hope that these kind of devices are going … show us which bits of ocean the birds are interacting with boats in and to help us pinpoint exactly where we need to better efforts to reduce the fishing mortalities in those international waters.”

The research was funded by the French Polar Institute and the European Research Council.