An ocean wanderer with wings spanning over 3 metres, the royal albatross reaches speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour riding the currents that circle the Southern Oceans.
- Effortless gliders, the albatross’s flying ability was admired by many early aviators, and spawned countless “flying machines.”
- After fledging, albatrosses can spend up to five years flying. When they return to land, many find they can’t stand up because their legs are temporarily unable to support their weight.
- While nesting they can last three weeks without touching a drop of water or food.
- If threatened while on their nest, albatrosses vomit a jet of fishy oil that has a projectile distance of several metres.
- If you wish to help save our albatross click here to support our appeal
Long admired by aviators, they transport their great bulk (9-12kg) using an energy -efficient gliding method that exploits polar currents.
At sea for years on end, albatrosses are well equipped for a sea-faring life - they drink sea water and have spectacular eyesight allowing them to pinpoint prey.
Known as the “albatross capital of the world,” New Zealand has become a breeding ground and nursery for more than half of the world’s 22 albatross species.
However six species found in New Zealand, including the royal albatross, are now facing population decline from fishing threats such as long-lining and trawling.
For millions of years albatrosses have dined on squid & fish, but today many of the squid have hooks in them - attached to the long-lines at the back of fishing boats.
Stretching for kilometres and planted with many thousands of hooks, long-lines are the biggest human threat to the albatross’s survival.
Albatrosses are attracted to the dead squid or fish used as bait. As the bait hits the water during the setting of the long-line, albatrosses attempt to seize and swallow them.
Used to catch tuna, Patagonian tooth-fish, snapper and ling, long-line fishing has become a huge industry in our southern oceans.
Every year up to 10,000 albatrosses and petrels have drowned on tuna long-line hooks within New Zealand’s 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.
Trawling also threatens albatrosses, due to the large amount of non-target catch or offal which is discarded into the sea and attracts hordes of scavenging birds, including albatrosses. Tussles ensue, and often albatrosses hit cables, breaking their wings, or drown after becoming entangled in cables that drag them underwater.
Most albatrosses don’t become sexually mature until they are five, and some don’t breed till the age of 10.
Albatrosses form pairs for life, and if they find themselves widowed it takes them a long time to re-establish pair bonds.
As late, infrequent breeders, albatrosses are particularly vulnerable to extinction.
Measures to prevent albatrosses being killed
Because New Zealand is a nursery ground for these vulnerable species, fishers in areas where albatrosses breed have to be especially vigilant.
Several measures are now in place to reduce the unwanted deaths of albatrosses. From February 2008, long-line fishers have to employ two of the three methods below.
- Streamers - streamers or tori lines attached to the stern (or back) of long-lining boats deter albatrosses from coming too close to the hooked long-lines. Albatrosses don’t like going close to these flapping streamers for fear that they may injure themselves.
- Night fishing – albatrosses are not generally active at night, so night-time fishing prevents unnecessary deaths, except during the full moon.
- Weighting – Albatrosses can only dive to a few metres, so weighting long-lines prevents them from getting caught and drowning.
Currently the only restrictions placed on trawlers are requirements to use streamers or similar scaring devices. Forest & Bird would like to see restrictions placed on fishers that requires them to:
- Dispose of offal/non-target catch in bigger, less-frequent batches
- Transport the offal/non-target catch back to land, rather than dump it at sea where it attracts seabirds.
Save the Albatross - campaign goals
Forest & Bird is campaigning to promote seabird-friendly fishing practices to save albatrosses from extinction.
We advocate for the implementation by the New Zealand Government and fishing industry the following measures to limit seabird by-catch:
- All long-line fishing boats in New Zealand waters must adopt international best practice measures to reduce seabird by-catch, including area and seasonal closures, night setting, weighted hooks and the use of tori lines and preventing discharge of offal.
- Seabird by-catch limits need to be set and enforced, and these limits reduced over time. When by-catch limits are exceeded in an area a fishery should be required to put more measures in place. More stringent measures could include requiring fishers to use all three measures listed above; better offal management, or potential seasonal closures. In order to enforce these measures, adequate monitoring by observers is also required.