What Future for the Albatross?
By Awake! correspondent in Britain
What is the future of the albatross, the world’s largest seabird? “Pretty grim,” reports The Times of London. Tens of thousands of them—Australian researchers estimate as many as 44,000—are being killed every year. In fact, some authorities feel that the wandering albatross, with its magnificent ten-foot wingspan, will soon become extinct.
After albatross are ready for flight, they spend seven years continuously at sea, soaring and gliding for thousands of miles and even sleeping on the wing. Some believe that the birds may circumnavigate the globe several times before returning to their place of birth to breed.
Albatross raise only one chick every other year. But during the past 20 years, the population of the wandering albatross on South Georgia in the South Atlantic and on Crozet in the Indian Ocean has been reduced almost by half. What is thought by some to be the reason for this? Longline fishing.
To catch bluefin tuna, fishermen use longlines, each carrying hundreds of hooks. The lines are set off the stern of the fishing vessel. Each hook is baited with squid—the main food of the albatross. When the bird swoops down to take the squid, it occasionally swallows the hook as well. The hooked albatross then sinks with the heavy line and drowns.
To protect the albatross, some tuna fishermen have been successfully encouraged to set their lines at night, when the bird does not fish. Fishermen are also seeking ways to spread their lines from beneath their boats so that the albatross cannot see the bait. Other techniques that have been used include weighted lines that sink faster and a kind of scarecrow to frighten off the birds.
In the open seas of the South Atlantic, however, there is no monitoring of methods used by fishing boats. According to seabird specialist Sandy Bartle, of the Museum of New Zealand, boats there “do nothing to stop albatrosses being killed.” Truly, the possible demise of the majestic albatross is a commentary on human negligence and indifference.