Shy AlbatrossCurrent status: The Shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta) is listed as Vulnerable under the Threatened Species Protection Act 1995.
The Shy Albatross is unique to Tasmania, breeding exclusively on three offshore islands: Albatross Island in the north, and Pedra Branca and the Mewstone in the south. The total population is estimated to be around 12 000 breeding pairs.
Albatrosses are one of the most threatened seabird groups in the world – a total of 21 out of 24 species of albatross are considered threatened under IUCN criteria.
Why are so many albatross threatened? The biggest threat facing modern day albatross populations is the interaction with fishing operations, particularly longlines. A typical longlining operation involves releasing a single line (that may be up to 100km long) off the stern of the boat with as many as 3,000 baited hooks along its length. Albatross are capable of flying vast distances over the ocean - breeding adults of some species may cover thousands of kilometres in a single foraging trip. They are common ship followers and strike at the baited hooks as they are being set, subsequently drowning when the line sinks below the water.
Albatross are very slow to mature (some species take up to ten years before breeding) and they have a very low reproductive output of a single egg every one or two years, depending upon species. This means that even a slight increase in mortality may have disastrous consequences for the survival of a population.
In the 1980's and 1990's, significant numbers of Shy albatross were killed annually on tuna longlines operating in Tasmanian waters. The amount of longline activity in Tasmania has since been reduced, however, the birds are still at risk of being killed on longlines operating elsewhere. Juvenile birds are particularly vulnerable. After fledging they spend the next several years at sea during which time they disperse widely – some individuals have been known to traverse the Indian Ocean to forage off the coast of South Africa. It is this capacity for flight that means albatross may be killed during interactions with fishing industries operating far from their natural territory.
What is being done? Shy albatross populations have been closely monitored for the past twenty years. We have also undertaken satellite tracking studies to learn about their foraging routes and identify areas where they are exposed to potentially fatal interactions with longlines.
This information can be used to reduce seabird bycatch by targeting areas for the development of safe fishing practices. Educating the general public and longlining companies about the issue of seabird bycatch is also a fundamental part of helping to reduce such threats.
For further information:
Contact: Threatened Species & Marine SectionRachael Alderman
Wildlife Biologist (Marine)
134 Macquarie Street HOBART TAS 7000
Phone: 03 6233 4929
Fax: 03 6233 3477
Tasmania Online | Service Tasmania
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