Friday, 3 February 2017

Scientists hopeful about albatross numbers

Scientists just back from an annual white-capped albatross census in the remote and windswept subantarctic islands are hopeful for the welfare of the iconic endemic seabirds.

A joint expedition between the Ministry for Primary Industries, Seafood New Zealand and the Department of Conservation this month surveyed numbers of the species on their key breeding site - the Auckland Islands in the Southern Ocean, 465 kilometres south of Bluff.

An estimated 95 percent of the worldwide population of white-capped albatross breed on the Auckland Islands each year, and hundreds of thousands of birds make their way there on an epic journey from both around NZ and South Africa.

Deepwater Group scientist Richard Wells said DoC would report the census data in the coming months, but he expected the figure would fall within the bounds of previous years.

"White-capped albatross are renowned for quite large changes in birds actually breeding in any one year and it is birds actually sitting on an egg that are counted to give an index of the population," Wells said.

"There are hints that this year is one where more birds took a break from laying but were still present at the breeding sites."

This was called "loafing" by scientists and the birds were labelled "floaters" as they wandered around the colony or stand on empty nests.

"Those on an egg sit very snugly and firmly on them so can be recognised as breeders."

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