New study: are teen seabirds safe? - Birdlife International

Seabirds have an exploratory adolescent phase, often looking for food in ocean areas quite different to breeding adults. A new collaborative BirdLife study warns that current seabird protection measures should not neglect such crucial stages of seabird development.

Juvenile Wandering Albatross wearing tracking device on Bird Island, South Georgia © Alex Dodds
Juvenile Wandering Albatross wearing tracking device on Bird Island, South Georgia © Alex Dodds

Whether it’s to get space from their parents, ‘find themselves’ or see more of the world before they settle down, human teenagers and young adults tend to have an exploratory phase. The same could be said for young seabirds, which have been tracked for long periods wandering great distances at sea. And just as this crucial stage in a person’s psychological development can sometimes take them down dangerous alleys, the paths taken by young and non-breeding albatrosses and petrels may well be leading them towards dangerous interactions with fishing vessels. To counter this, a recent study led by BirdLife scientists provides a new and improved method for identifying seabird hotspots for at-sea conservation measures.

Lightweight tracking devices attached to the backs or tails of seabirds, or to a ring on their legs, have given us a completely new insight into their movements and lives – insight that is crucial to, for example, set measures for long-line fisheries in certain important zones to prevent seabird deaths. Yet, despite major recent advances in tracking technology, studying at-sea movements of juvenile, immature, and non-breeding adult seabirds remains particularly challenging, because they can be gone for months or years, returning to colonies only for short periods – making it difficult to retrieve devices and download data.

“Often, approaches to identify seabird hotspots at sea are based on breeding adult distributions”, says lead author Ana Carneiro, Seabird Science Officer at BirdLife. “As a result, evaluation of risk is likely to be biased or an underestimate.”

Read the paper: Carneiro, APB, Pearmain, EJ, Oppel, S, et al. A framework for mapping the distribution of seabirds by integrating tracking, demography and phenology. J Appl Ecol. 2020; 00: 1– 12. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.13568 (open access)

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