A sole Antipodean albatross chick born on the remote Chatham Islands has delighted conservationists who hope the bird may usher in the start of a new – and crucial – nesting colony.
The Antipodean albatross is classified as “nationally critical” in New Zealand, meaning the birds, the largest on the ocean, are on the brink of extinction, with just 3,000 breeding pairs remaining.
The birds only breed in the New Zealand geographic region and, if mating is successful, raise a single chick every two years, meaning regeneration of the fragile population is achingly slow.
Now, a sole chick born late last year on Pitt Island in the Chathams is causing excitement among conservationists, who have attached a tracking device to the young bird to monitor its sea-faring explorations, about which little is known.
Albatross can spend years at sea without ever once resting on land and travelling more than 100,000km a year.
The chick fledged on 27 December, and since then tracking equipment has logged 12,500km of flying, as the bird crisscrosses the south Pacific around the Chatham Islands.
Scientists also hope the tracker will help identify fishing fleets which overlap with the bird’s flight path, often ending in death or injury for the animals.
Igor Debski, principal marine science adviser at the Department of Conservation, said the satellite tracking equipment would help his team gain a better understanding of the species, whose movements and patterns at sea remain largely elusive.
“Albatross spend most of their time on the ocean and while we are taking action to protect them on land, once they fledge and disperse to international waters we’re limited with what we can do,” says Debski.
“That some birds have managed to rear a chick at this little outpost suggests it has potential to become a new colony.”
The new chick is the offspring of an Antipodean albatross that was born at the same location 10 years ago.
Since then, other couples have attempted to build nests at the sight, but had their eggs attacked by feral pigs or cats.
Antipodean wandering albatross have shown a steady decline in population since 2008. The number of female Antipodean wandering albatross are significantly lower than males.
It has been projected that with the current rate of decline, there will be less than 500 breeding pairs in the next 20 years.
Since 2009 there has been an estimated 1,000 “extra” deaths per year of adult albatrosses over and above their normal mortality, mainly after becoming entangled in fishing nets or starving after failing to find food due to warming ocean temperatures.