Today is the first World Albatross Day. I didn’t know there was a day left that wasn’t given to a special cause, but okay. It’s of course always good to create more awareness for these magnificent birds and the problems they still face.
I remember the first time I went to Antarctica, I was more looking forward to seeing my first albatross as I was to seeing my first penguin. Somehow these massive animals, some with the largest wingspan of any bird in the world, interested me from a young age onward. Maybe it was their sheer size, their ability to roam effortlessly around the oceans or maybe the sometimes subtle colours. I don’t know what it was, but they were high on my bird wish list.
Little did I know back then about the threats they faced. That many of the birds were caught as bycatch in long-line fisheries, or that their eggs and chicks get eaten by human-introduced mice or rats on their breeding islands. Of the total of 22 species of albatross in the world, 17 are placed on the IUCN Red List as being threatened in some way, nine of them being either endangered or critically endangered.
But it’s not all sad news, fortunately. More and more measures are taken to prevent the bycatch of albatrosses by the fisheries. Around South Georgia and the Falklands the bycatch is reduced to only a few birds a year. However, there is a lot of illegal fisheries going on, which I’m sure doesn’t follow too many regulations in this matter.
Another positive thing is the removal of non-native invasive species on several important breeding islands, like South Georgia and Gough. More and more rat-eradication programs are started and they do start to have an effect. So, hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel, though many populations are still decreasing.