Albatrosses are amongst the most charismatic and spectacular birds. With a wingspan of more than 2 meters, they travel thousands of kilometers over the oceans, coming to land only during the breeding season. These birds are famous for their amazing flight capabilities, as they glide over the waves, taking advantage of wind currents, almost without flapping their wings. There are 22 species, most of which nest in the southern hemisphere. Most albatross species (17 out of 22) are currently classified as threatened, which places this family at the top of the rank of bird families facing severe conservation problems. Among the various causes, it is believed that the most important factor is a high incidental mortality caused by fishing gear. The low reproductive rate (one egg per breeding season) makes albatross populations particularly vulnerable to bycatch. Fortunately, in several regions it is now mandatory to use measures that minimize the likelihood of fisheries-related mortality.
The Falkland/Malvinas Islands hold about two thirds of the world population of black-browed albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris. In 2003, we started the first detailed demographic study of the species in this archipelago. The annual monitoring of the population breeding on New Island, plus more limited work at other sites, is allowing us to learn about black-browed albatross demography, ecology and behavior. Recently we started a new project that focuses on the sensitive interactions between seabirds and fishing vessels, using data from GPS tracking and dietary analyses (both conventional and isotope-based). This information is crossed with data from the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) to investigate exactly how long each albatross spends near fishing vessels, and under what circumstances.
The long-term study of this top predator also contributes to the assessment of the state of marine environment on the Patagonian shelf and of the potential impacts of climate change. Being relatively easy to study, seabirds are excellent indicators of environmental quality and provide valuable information to decision makers.
The Falklands/Malvinas constitute a truly outstanding wildlife sanctuary and we take advantage of our presence there to, in parallel with albatross research, develop several projects with other birds, with relevance for conservation and environmental monitoring.
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