Category Archives: ornithology

Sea Birds face extinction in Rat Island of Alaska

Marine Buzz

Sea birds of the Rat Island in Alaska infested with rats, face the threat of mass extinction. The island was invaded by rats in mid 1700s, from a Japanese or Russian ship that was grounded nearby. Now other nearby islands are also infested with rats. The birds generally lay the eggs on the ground as there are hardly any trees in the island. Rats find it easy to survive on these eggs. Interestingly, one pair of rats can produce a population of more than 5,000 rats in a year. Puffins, auklets and storm petrels are almost at the risk of extinction. State and federal wildlife biologists are preparing to exterminate the rats by air dropping rat poison from helicopters. If they succeed, it will be the third-largest rat free island in the world.

Here is the map that shows the islands that are infested with rats.

Leave a comment

Filed under biodiversity, endangered, environment, nature, ornithology, wildlife, zoology

Macedonia set to protect endangered vultures

Skopje. Macedonia will protect the critically endangered vultures through assistance of a Spanish organization, Macedonian Makfax writes on Monday.
Macedonian Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning in co-operation with the Macedonian Environmentalist Association and a Spanish Foundation today will promote the project “Strengthening the National Capacity for the Protection of Vultures in Macedonia”. The promotion ceremony will take place in Kavadarci.
The project is funded by the European Commission – Consortium of NGOs. The Kavadarci-based Wild Flora and Fauna Fund will take part in the realization of the project.
Of the four species of vultures that used to net in Macedonia, the bearded and the black vultures have already extinct and the remaining two species are the white-headed and the Egyptian, both species facing extinction.
The white-head eagle lives in Demir Kapija area, the Crna Reka canyon near Tikves Lake, the Osogovo Mountain, Matka Lake and in Mariovo.

Leave a comment

Filed under biodiversity, birds, europe, nature, ornithology, wildlife, zoology

Environmentalists oppose ruling on endangered hawk species

Associated Press

Dan Joling

var requestedWidth = 0;

if(requestedWidth > 0){ document.getElementById(‘articleViewerGroup’).style.width = requestedWidth + “px”; document.getElementById(‘articleViewerGroup’).style.margin = “0px 0px 10px 10px”; } ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A bird of prey found along North America’s northern West Coast warrants protection as an endangered species in Canada but not in Alaska, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided Thursday.

Environmental groups that sued the agency for protections for the Queen Charlotte goshawk called the decision bad science and a bad interpretation of federal law and vowed to return to court to have Alaska birds protected.

“We think it’s illegal, and organizationally, when we think things are illegal, we go to court and try to get a judge to agree with us,” said Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The quest to list the birds under the Endangered Species Act has been going on since 1994. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s latest response came after its previous determination denying protections was rejected in court.

Queen Charlotte goshawks are one of three subspecies that inhabit the Northern hemisphere, according to the listing petition. They’re found from Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to southeast Alaska south of Juneau.

Queen Charlotte goshawks are 22 to 26 inches long. They have short wingspans and long tails that help them maneuver in forests. Feather guards protect their eyes from stray branches.

They hunt relatively large prey. In Alaska, in the absence of snowshoe hares, rabbits and chipmunks, they target grouse and ptarmigan. They are fierce defenders of nests and will attack wolves, bears and humans that stray close to their nests, according to the listing petition.

Cummings said up to 500 breeding pairs remain in North America and most are in southeast Alaska.

Logging of old growth forest is considered the main threat to the Queen Charlotte goshawks, said Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity in Portland, Ore.

“This is a species that hunts under the forest canopy,” he said. “Going in there and cutting down substantial amounts of trees is not something that would be conducive to its survival,” Greenwald said.

Owen Graham, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association, a timber trade association, praised the decision as one less worry for Alaska’s ailing timber industry.

“We don’t have enough timber to operate now,” he said.

He said protections already are in place for the birds and that additional revisions are expected in the U.S. Forest Service management plan for the 17-million acre Tongass National Forest.

The environmental groups took issue with the Fish and Wildlife Service determination that the Alaska and British Columbia ranges are distinct populations and therefore qualify for individual consideration.

The agency concluded that it could support listing British Columbia birds as threatened or endangered. The same could not be said for the Alaska birds, given conservation measures in place in the Tongass, the world’s largest temperate rain forest. Those measures include no-harvest status in substantial areas and guidelines for goshawk protection by loggers in the parts of the forest open for cutting.

The decision Thursday means the agency will have up to a year to determine whether the birds should be listed as endangered or threatened.

Cummings said it was troubling that the agency would list only a portion of an imperiled population. It’s a dangerous precedent that works to exclude as many areas as possible from the Endangered Species Act, he said.

“We believe the law says, if this species is to survive, it has to be protected in Alaska, where the core remaining population is,” Cummings said.

Listing the birds as endangered in another country gives them no direct protection through U.S. management but could affect timber imports. Cummings said mismanagement in the Tongass, where insufficient protections are likely to be weakened, do not ensure survival of the goshawks.

“That’s where it needs to be protected and that’s where the Department of Interior has completely abdicated its responsibility,” Cummings said.

1 Comment

Filed under biodiversity, conservation, environment, extinction, ornithology, USA, wildlife, zoology

Chinese Crested Terns Heading for Extinction

 China.org – Yang Xi

The Chinese Crested Tern is the most endangered bird to date in China. This bird’s common name indicates its close relationship with China. In 1863 scientists gave the bird a Latin name – “Sternabernsteni” but Chinese also call the animal “Shenhua Zhinao” or the “Mythical Bird”, because it is rare and mysterious.

“There are less than fifty Chinese Crested Terns in China,” Chen Shuihua, deputy curator of Museum of Natural History of Zhejiang Province and also the most authoritative expert on Chinese Crested Terns research, said. He did not disclose the exact number. The number of Chinese Crested Terns around the world has reduced by half in the past three years, according to a survey.

The earliest record of the Chinese Crested Terns in China dates from 1863. In 1937, Chinese scientists collected 21 specimens of the birds, including 15 females and 6 males near Qingdao in Shandong Province. Few similar records were made in the following sixty-three years. Some scientists only kept minimal records without photos in the Beidaihe Region in Hebei Province (1978) and in the Yellow River Delta of Dongying in Shandong Province (1991). Many ornithologists believed that the birds were extinct.

Big surprise

Surprisingly, in June 2004 an avian photographer from Taiwan, Liang Jiede, took pictures and unexpectedly found four adult pairs of Chinese Crested Terns and four juvenile birds in his photos after developing his film.
 
In 2003 Chen Shuihua began to lead an investigation into propagating sea birds along the coastal areas of Zhejiang Province, while putting emphasis on Chinese Crested Terns.

Chen Shuihua led a group out to sea to start another investigation in June 2004 because he wanted to set a new record. “None of the ornithologists had gone to sea to do their investigations due to the danger and expense, so little investigation into sea birds in China has ever been carried out,” Chen said. Unfortunately, his investigation did not have a happy ending.

Chen Shuihua set out to the sea several times in 2004 during the sea birds’ breeding season from June to August. Chen’s group found almost twenty Chinese Crested Terns on August 1, 2004 in the central coastal areas of Zhejiang Province.

The main reason for the sharp decrease of Chinese Crested Terns is due to rampant collecting of sea bird eggs. These rare birds will go extinct in five years if such illegal practices are not forbidden, according to an article published by the Bird Life International.

Chen Shuihua has identified the Chinese Crested Tern as a flagship specimen of the marine ecosystem. He believes that the extinction of this bird would mean the destruction of the entire marine ecosystem, so he strongly advocates protecting all sea birds.
  
Bird Life International has suggested that the mainland and Taiwan should cooperate in rescue efforts directed at Chinese Crested Terns.

This July in Taiwan Chen Shuihua was invited to participate in a meeting that focused on how to create a cooperative effort to protect Chinese Crested Terns. Chen has worked out a five-year plan for their protection. “I hope that efficient measures can be enforced within five years to ensure the successful breeding and survival of these birds and that we can make more detailed investigations in order to obtain greater understanding about these birds,” Chen said.

1 Comment

Filed under animals, asia, biodiversity, birds, china, conservation, endangered, environment, extinction, nature, ornithology, wildlife, zoology

Endangered hawks’ nests go missing from U.F. site

 Examiner – Jane Meggit.

UPPER FREEHOLD – A neighboring landowner has alleged that the developer of a 60-unit subdivision on Emley’s Hill Road may have told employees to remove the nests of a threatened hawk from the site.

Ronald Taft, who lives next door to the Emley’s Hill Road development, notified the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Sept. 27 that one of PRC Development/ Oak Tree Development LLC’s former employees has alleged that the developer “intentionally misled the Planning Board and lied to the DEP in connection with issues concerning the presence of Cooper’s hawks in the wetlands of the property and the presence and removal of the nests” from wetlands on lots four and five of the approved subdivision.

Taft has alleged that after he brought the Cooper’s hawks’ nests presence on the property to the attention of the DEP and the township’s Planning Board, the developer told its former employee, an outside contractor, and other employees to find and remove the nests. Taft has further alleged that employees were told not just to remove the two reported nests but also to remove all nests from the site so none would be there when the DEP and Planning Board investigated the property.

Taft said the former employee and possibly others who removed the nests would testify as long as they received immunity from prosecution.

In 2004, Taft told Planning Board members that local residents had seen Cooper’s hawks and their nests in the area where construction of the Galloping Hills subdivision was supposed to take place.

At that time, a neighboring resident, Christine D’Arienzo, located the nests in the western wetlands of the site and photographed them. She had birding expert Fred Lesser visit the site, view the nests, and write a report. The report was submitted Oct. 26, 2004, to the PRC Group in West Long Branch and its engineer, Birdsall Engineering, in Eatontown.

Taft soon after sent a letter to the developer’s ecological consultants. The letter stated that he and D’Arienzo visited the site on Nov. 7, 2004, and that “it was clear that someone had climbed the two northern

red oak trees in which the nests were located and removed and destroyed the nests.”

Laurence S. Torok, principal environmental specialist of the DEP, sent a letter Nov. 22, 2004 to Birdsall Engineering stating that zoologists in the DEP’s Endangered and Non-game Species Program (ENSP) had evaluated the reported sightings of the Cooper’s hawk and found them legitimate.

Amanda Dey, a senior biologist at the ENSP, wrote in a June 25, 2005, letter that the main documentation of Cooper’s hawks breeding on the site came from a March 2003 survey and report from Wander Ecological Consulting, the developer’s former environmental consultant.

Dey and David Moskowitz, of EcolSciences, the developer’s new environmental consultant, scheduled a series of five visits to the site beginning in late March and ending in late April 2005.

On April 28, Dey and Moskowitz surveyed the site together, according to Dey’s report, but her loudspeaker for call playback was not functioning properly. She and Moskowitz made vocalizations of Cooper’s hawks and their predator, the great horned owl, while walking the site to elicit responses from breeding Cooper’s hawks, but found no evidence of adult birds or breeding. Her report further stated that Moskowitz had visited the site on his own and noted that the adult female Cooper’s hawk had not been sighted in the wooded wetland at the southwest corner of the site but had been observed on the southeast corner in a different wooded wetland.

At the Oct. 18 Township Committee meeting, resident Marc Covitz brought up Taft’s concerns. Mayor Stephen Fleischacker said members of the governing body and Planning Board were aware of Taft’s allegations.

Township Attorney Granville Magee called Taft a very good lawyer and said he would know that he must contact the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office to pursue the issue.

Committeeman Stephen Alexander, also an attorney, said that the Township Committee does not have the ability to grant those who testify immunity from prosecution. He added that perjury cases are often difficult to prove because the first question a lawyer asks is if the witness previously admitted to lying.

PRC Group Senior Vice President and General Counsel Robert McGowan wrote in a Nov. 2 letter to Magee that the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court unanimously affirmed a May 2 trial court’s dismissal of Taft’s allegations.

Judge Alexander Lehrer’s original decision cited a transcript of the Oct. 26, 2004, Planning Board meeting, in which Board Attorney Frank Armenante stated that the issue of whether the buffer should be changed due to the existence of endangered species habitation would be left up to the DEP.

McGowan called Covitz’s comments at the Oct. 18 Township Committee meeting “merely an echo of the arguments that have been argued and decided several times over the past three years.”

Taft said he has not heard from any township officials about the matter.

“The silence is deafening,” he said.

Taft said he has plans to bring a civil action lawsuit against the developer at the appropriate time. He added that the township could insist on investigating the matter.

“If people feel that they can submit inaccurate information and no one cares, what does that say about the process?” he asked. “What good is the process if it is OK to just make up a story? If you do that, and get caught, and it’s all OK, what happened to the process?”

Taft said the inaction of the Township Committee sends a message that it does not care if people mislead the governing bodies.

McGowan sent an Oct. 31 letter to Taft stating that Taft’s assertions regarding perjury before the Planning Board could not be substantiated by any facts or other corroborating information known to the PRC Group. The letter further states that the PRC Group reported “a former employee” to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office for attempting to “illegally extort remuneration from our companies based on his threat to report to the ‘appropriate authorities’ certain alleged activities in which he claims to have participated in while an employee of the PRC Group and in regard to the Galloping Hills development property.”

McGowan’s letter continues, “Inasmuch as said employee was the beneficiary of substantial financial incentives, which were directly linked to the number of buildable lots that were ultimately approved, and since to date said employee is the only person or entity to have realized any financial gain from the approval of the subject development project, I suggest that the exercise of an appropriate amount of cautious skepticism as to the motivation and credibility of his assertions may prove to be warranted.”

Leave a comment

Filed under biodiversity, conservation, nature, ornithology, wildlife, zoology

Back from verge of extinction only to face a new threat

The Scotsman – John Ross

A FARMING crisis in Scotland could again threaten a rare bird that has fought back from the brink of extinction.

Corncrake numbers have risen to their highest in nearly three decades of monitoring, according to RSPB Scotland.

The population here now stands at 1,273 calling males, but bird numbers have seriously declined throughout most of western Europe.

The turnaround in Scotland follows a recovery programme started by the RSPB and crofters in 1993, when there were only 470 calling males in the UK and the species was in danger of being wiped out.

But experts say the species continues to be threatened by changes to agricultural support systems and a growing crisis in Scottish livestock farming.

The environmentally-fragile, peripheral areas in the north and west, particularly the islands, have already suffered some loss of cattle farming, as it has become ever more economically marginal and, in some cases, unviable.

The June agricultural census shows the number of cattle in Scotland has fallen to 1,898,280, from 2,078,900 in 1997. Sheep numbers have also dropped, from 9,563,190 to 7,490,870.

The RSPB says the environmental consequences of losing cattle from these areas would be severe. In addition to the grazing benefits these systems of farming produce, loss of cattle also means declining hay production and mixed farm practices, depriving corncrakes and other wildlife of the food resources and habitats they need.

Livestock diseases, and the restrictions that have resulted from disease control elsewhere in the UK, along with uncertainty for the future of support systems, are threatening to accelerate the decline into a “freefall”.

Stuart Housden, the director of RSPB Scotland, said: ”

The corncrake and many other important species are very much dependent on extensive cattle rearing practices that characterise much of the Highlands and Islands.

“This type of farming has become ever more economically marginal because of changes in agricultural support systems. If we are to see this wildlife flourish, funding streams like the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme and Rural Stewardship Scheme must be both retained and targeted to ensure that these extensive farming systems continue to produce benefits for the rich array of species and biodiversity found here.”

The corncrake’s strongholds are in the inner Hebridean and Argyll islands. Tiree’s population of calling males has increased by 23.4 per cent from 316 in 2006 to 390 in 2007.

Together with Coll, Iona, Mull, Oronsay, Colonsay and Islay, this area accounts for 59 per cent of the total Scottish population. The calling male population in the Outer Hebrides was also up by 22 birds, compared with last year.

• CORNCRAKES migrate to Scotland in April and May from sub-Saharan Africa, where they spend the winter.

They are found in herbs and tall grass, particularly in hay meadows.

Numbers of the birds began to fall towards the end of the 19th century. Although it was recognised that numbers varied from year to year, a link was noticed between the decline of bird numbers and the increase in the mechanisation of mowing.

By 1972, the corncrake had disappeared from most of mainland Britain, and population declines continued, except in Lewis, Coll and Tiree, where suitable hay meadow habitats and late mowing dates allow successful breeding.

Leave a comment

Filed under animals, biodiversity, birds, conservation, endangered, environment, extinction, nature, ornithology, UK, wildlife, zoology

Resort Threatens Last 100 Grenada Doves

 Plenty mag

It sucks to be a country’s national symbol. Around the world, the plants, birds and animals that many nations call their national symbols are, ironically, at risk. The US managed to save the bald eagle, but other species, such as New Zealand’s kiwi, could soon face extinction. Now comes news that Grenada’s national symbol, the critically endangered Grenada Dove, could be wiped out so Four Seasons can build a big resort.

With less than 100 Grenada Doves left, every bird counts. The dove has only one major nesting ground, in a 155-acre national park which was created to protect the species. Unfortunately, last April, Grenada’s government approved an amendment which allows them to sell off their national parks to any private interest.

That amendment makes it possible for developers to destroy as much as half of the dove’s previously protected national park so they can build a luxury resort for the Four Seasons chain. The American Bird Conservancy submitted a critique of the development plans, along with a plan to help protect the dove, but the developers have completely ignored them and are moving ahead, un-phased and unchallenged.

So yes, we may soon be saying good-bye forever to Grenada’s national symbol. But hey, at least Grenada will get a new golf course out of it.

1 Comment

Filed under animals, biodiversity, birds, conservation, endangered, environment, extinction, habitat, international cooperation, nature, ornithology, red list, wildlife, zoology

Ten per cent of most endangered European seabird use UK waters

Sciencecentric

Rising sea temperatures are driving increasing numbers of Europe’s most endangered seabird into UK waters. Around ten per cent of the world population of Balearic shearwaters has visited UK inshore waters this summer and autumn, with more than 1,200 birds being recorded from just one watchpoint near Land’s End in Cornwall.

The findings come from a new survey, led by scientists at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS) in collaboration with the RSPB, which has been monitoring numbers of the birds off the coast of South West England.

Balearic shearwaters are the only European seabird to be classified as ‘critically endangered’ on the recently released 2007 International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List. They could become extinct by 2050 if current rates of decline continue. Dr Russell Wynn, who is co-ordinating the SeaWatch SW survey, said: ‘Balearic shearwaters leave their Mediterranean breeding colonies in late summer and head for richer feeding grounds along north Atlantic coasts. The numbers recorded during the survey this year show how important our inshore waters are to this highly vulnerable seabird.’

The survey builds upon new research recently published in the Royal Society journal, Biology Letters, which highlights global warming as a key driver behind the upsurge in UK Balearic shearwater sightings.

Dr Wynn and colleagues showed how northeast Atlantic sea surface temperatures rose by 0.6 degrees Celsius in the mid-1990s, triggering a northwards shift in the Balearic shearwater’s prey fish species and with it the birds that feed on them.

‘Just 20 years ago Balearic shearwaters were scarce visitors to South West waters, but they are now regularly recorded from headlands throughout the UK. Since 2003 we have even started seeing birds staying throughout the winter off Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which is a completely new phenomenon linked to elevated winter sea temperatures,’ said Dr Wynn.

Changes in fish distribution and abundance mean that many Balearic shearwaters are being forced to migrate 20% further — over 400 miles — in search of food than they did a few years ago.

Experts say the effects on survival of individual birds are hard to assess, but could well be contributing to the species highly endangered status.

Dr Wynn added: ‘Climate change is often perceived to be a future threat, but the reality for our marine fauna is that it is happening now. Species towards the top of the food chain are having to respond very rapidly in order to survive, and some are going to be pushed to extinction if they fail ‘.

Marine wildlife faces a variety of other threats in addition to climate change, but enjoys little or no legal protection in UK seas. The RSPB, along with other conservation organisations, is campaigning for the Government to include a Marine Bill in this year’s Queen’s Speech. The draft Bill includes proposals for a new system of marine planning and licensing, modernising fisheries management and the introduction of Marine Conservation Zones.

The RSPB’s South West seabird specialist, Helen Booker, said: ‘The Government has recently placed Balearic shearwaters on its new ‘BAP list’ of priority species needing conservation action, because the birds face an extreme threat of global extinction.

‘It now has a chance to demonstrate its commitment to saving the UK’s wildlife is more than just a token gesture by making sure it introduces this new protection for marine species.’

More than 120,000 pledges of support for the Marine Bill to be included in this year’s Queen’s Speech will be delivered to the Prime Minister by the RSPB this Wednesday (17 October).

Leave a comment

Filed under birds, ornithology, wildlife, zoology

Two More Hawaiian Birds on Brink of Extinction

Environment News Service

WASHINGTON, DC, October 15, 2007 (ENS) – A national bird protection group and a Hawaiian bird expert are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend protection to two increasingly rare birds found only on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.

Population surveys conducted this spring show that these species may be on the brink of extinction. The two birds – the akikiki and the akeke’e – are not adequately protected by existing regulatory mechanisms, the petitioners say.

The American Bird Conservancy and Dr. Eric VanderWerf submitted a petition Thursday requesting protection under the Endangered Species Act for the akeke’e and the akikiki, two Hawaiian honeycreepers.

The akikiki lives only on the high, wet slopes of Kauai’s highest mountain. (Photos by Eric VanderWerf courtesy American Bird Conservancy)

After many years as bird recovery coordinator with the Service in Hawaii, Dr. VanderWerf now has his own consulting firm. He is still engaged in keeping the unique birds of Hawaii from vanishing into extinction.He says more research is needed to determine why populations of the akikiki and the akeke’e a have been in steep decline since 1970, although other Hawaiian birds are known to have gone extinct due to a combination of habitat loss and degradation caused by invasive alien plants and browsing and rooting by feral pigs, diseases spread by introduced mosquitoes, predation by alien mammals such as rats, and catastrophes such as hurricanes.

“Recent surveys show that the akikiki and the akeke’e are in serious trouble,” said George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy. “The strongest available measures such as captive-breeding, fencing out and removal of invasive species, and listing under the Endangered Species Act, are all necessary to prevent these species from going extinct.”

The current population of the akikiki could be as few as 782 birds, based on surveys conducted in April and May. The population has steadily declined from around 7,000 birds in 1970 to this year’s all time low. The geographic range occupied by the akikiki declined from 34 square miles in 1970 to 14 square miles in 2000, and may have continued to decline since then.

The akeke’e uses its offset bill to pry open leaves and flower buds of just one tree, the ōhi‘a.

The current population of the akeke’e is estimated to be as low as 2,506 birds, based on the April and May surveys. The population has declined from around 8,000 birds in 2000.

The geographic range occupied by the akeke’e was also 34 square kilometers in 1970, and although this was reported not to have changed in 2000, surveys in 2007 failed to find the species in many areas where it was previously observed.

This would indicate that there has been a range contraction, the bird scientists say, though the extent is not known at this time.

The threat from mosquito-borne diseases may worsen as global warming allows mosquitoes to invade the highest, coldest parts of the island that once provided refuge from disease, the bird experts warn.

The akikiki is categorized as Critically Endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union due to its extremely small and declining population and geographic range.

The akeke’e is categorized as Endangered by the IUCN due to its small and declining geographic range and declines in habitat quality.

Hawaii leads the U.S. in the total number of endangered and threatened species with 329, and in extinctions – with over 1,000 plants and animals having disappeared since human colonization.

When Captain Cook landed on the islands in 1778, there were at least 71 endemic bird species. Since then, 26 of those species have gone extinct, and 32 more are now listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered.

Several Hawaiian bird species, the Po’ouli and the Ou are assumed to have recently gone extinct before captive-breeding or other protection measures could be implemented.

Leave a comment

Filed under environment, extinction, nature, ornithology, USA, wildlife, zoology

U.S. Considers Black-Footed Albatross for Endangered Listing

 Environment News

HONOLULU, Hawaii, October 9, 2007 (ENS) – Today the federal government began a formal review to determine if the black-footed albatross should receive the protections of the Endangered Species Act. This albatross is already classified as globally Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The announcement, published in the Federal Register, comes in response to a petition filed in 2004 by the environmental law firm Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

The black-footed albatross, Phoebastria nigripes, nests in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Midway Atoll has the second largest population in the world.

With a wingspan extending over six feet, the black-footed albatross spends much of its life on the wing, scooping flying fish eggs, squid, and fish from the ocean surface. They forage across the North Pacific and are frequently seen off the California and Oregon coasts.

Like all albatrosses, this species is threatened by drowning in longline fisheries targeting swordfish and tuna. Globally, 19 of the 21 recognized albatross species are considered threatened.

“Longline fishing has been a global catastrophe for albatross species,” said Brendan Cummings, ocean program director with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Unless we rein in longline fishing,” he said, “we stand to lose not just the black-footed albatross but virtually every albatross species on Earth.”

Longline fishing, carried out by setting thousands of hooks from a line upwards of 60 miles in length, drowns more than 300,000 seabirds each year. Albatross and other birds dive at the baited hooks as they are deployed, become hooked, and are dragged underwater, where they drown.

Various methods have been devised to scare the birds away or to make the hooks sink faster, decreasing the number of birds killed. Yet most fishing vessels are not using these techniques, Cummings says.

“The health of this majestic seabird is a concern for all of us who care about marine ecosystems,” said Patrick Leonard, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Office. “Our next step in the process is to initiate a status review of the species followed by a 12-month finding to determine if listing is actually warranted.”

The 12 month review will evaluate the effects of commercial longline fisheries. The Fish and Wildlife Service points to published models of incidental mortality of black-footed albatross in fisheries that indicate as much as five percent of the population may be killed in longline fishery operations annually.

Levels of mercury and organochlorine contaminants such as PCBs and DDT have been shown to be higher in North Pacific albatrosses than in species in the southern hemisphere, and these contaminant concentrations are higher in black-footed than in Laysan albatrosses, the Service says.

These substances are used in industry and agriculture, and once they make their way into the sea are found in concentrations that increase with the progression through the food chain from primary producers to top predators.

Black-footed albatrosses are top predators in marine ecosystems, and levels of these contaminants found in the species were determined to be high enough to pose a toxicological risk and interfere with reproduction.

The world experts on the status of seabirds, BirdLife International and the World Conservation Union, have recently concluded that the black-footed albatross should be classified as endangered.

Scientists estimate that only about 60,000 nesting pairs survive today, and that the current level of human-caused mortality is unsustainable.

Albatross mortality dropped when the Hawaii-based longline fishery for swordfish was temporarily shut down to reduce sea turtle bycatch. Federal officials are currently considering proposals to expand this fishery.

“If we want to save the black-footed albatross we need to better regulate Hawaii’s longline fisheries, not expand them,” said Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice attorney in Honolulu. “Unfortunately, the federal government seems determined to drive not just the albatross but also our sea turtles to extinction.”

Black-footed albatross are long-lived birds that have evolved a life history somewhat parallel to humans. They mate for life, lay only one egg per year, and if one of the pair dies, it can take three or more years before the living partner finds another mate and begins to reproduce again.

Current studies estimate that longline fishing in the Pacific Ocean captures more than three million sharks, 40,000 sea turtles, and tens of thousands of seabirds in its quest for large fish.

“Solving the problem for seabirds must be done immediately, but as long as we allow longliners to deploy billions of hooks every year, indiscriminately hooking marine wildlife species by the millions, our oceans won’t be safe,” said Todd Steiner of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “If we don’t act soon, longline fishing will empty our oceans and our skies.”

Leave a comment

Filed under biodiversity, endangered, environment, ornithology, red list, USA, wildlife, zoology