Scientists have successfully deployed miniature GPS loggers on threatened black browed albatross on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island to find out more about the foraging habits of the birds.
Approximately 40 pairs of black browed albatross breed on the steep slopes of the remote Island, and this summer researchers attached five loggers to the breeding birds.
Chief Investigator from the Tasmanian Department Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment (DPIPWE) Marine Conservation branch, Dr Rachael Alderman, said the birds are threatened by fishing and climate change, on land and at sea.
“The tiny black browed albatross population has been relatively stable in recent years, but we need to better understand where the birds go to feed, and how a changing environment might impact their numbers,” Dr Alderman said.
“In the last month field biologists, Kim Kliska and Penny Pascoe, have successfully taped the miniature devices to the feathers on the back of albatross and the data is then beamed back while they forage.”
The data loggers remain on the birds for between one and three foraging flights with four of the five GPS retrieved to date. Over winter, researchers on Macquarie Island attached satellite tags to track the threatened sea-bird, the grey petrel, for the first time.
The biologists regularly visit the colony to record the progress of the breeding season and on a recent trip they captured a series of spectacular photographs of new chicks and their parents.
“Black browed albatross chicks hatch throughout late December and January each year. Their parents leave them in search of food after a few weeks, but the chicks remain on the Island until April,” Dr Alderman said.
“Most of the chicks will themselves return to breed on Macquarie Island if they survive to 7 or 8 years old.”
The Australian Antarctic Program research has been ongoing since 1994 and involves extensive field work collecting a range of population and ecological data from the four albatross and two giant petrel species on the Island.
All the data collected is fed into the International Agreement on the Conservation of Albatross and Petrels to inform conservation measures such as reducing seabird by-catch in fisheries. Australian sub-Antarctic fisheries are closed during summer, to avoid albatross when they are foraging close to shore to feed their chicks.
The black browed albatross population on Macquarie Island has benefited from the eradication of rabbits, with regrowth of vegetation providing critical nesting habitat and better protection from extreme weather and predators.