One afternoon as my observations were coming to an end the first mate came to chat with me at the stern. He sees me sitting at the back of the boat days on end, staring at birds. “You’re job looks boring” he said, and I was quick to point out that not all birds were the same. I showed him the differences between a Black-browed albatross and a Yellow-nosed albatross and I could see his interest piquing. “I heard these birds could go extinct. I don’t see it, they are everywhere”.

These are fundamental moments for me on the boats – when the crew are open and honest enough to voice their opinions. It also creates a perfect opportunity to explain why seabirds are unique and more prone to extinction because of their life history traits. In short, they breed incredibly slowly (1 egg/year), have delayed sexual maturity (2-9 years) and are incredibly long lived (~60 years in larger species!). Imagine a breeding bird being killed – not only is that individual dead but the reproductive potential too. The breeding population lost a contributing member and with it decades of reproductive output.

Boats can attract thousands of scavenging seabirds, especially in winter months and when winds are strong. Image: Chrissie Madden

I also explain how mice on islands eat albatross chicks and fishing boats can kill juveniles and importantly, adults, and that’s how their populations are declining. Birds also tend to flock towards fishing vessels, which are essentially food hotspots in the ocean, especially in winter with high abundance. The great thing about attitudes is that they can change. I could see him thinking about the birds and linking it with his every day, fishing life. “I haven’t seen a dead bird in years. Not since we don’t have splices or grease on the warps (several fishermen have voiced this sentiment) and of course, the tori lines”.

The fisherman was keen to get a book on the birds so he could identify them – another birding convert – great success! He seemed initially sceptical about the plight of seabirds but with information seabird bycatch becomes a tangible concept and I could see him understanding more about the albatross life cycle and why they are so special.

Fishermen are keen to read the ATF seabird bycatch brochure.

  • We, at Campfield Marsh RSPB Reserve, have, in the last 6 months, installed a Albatross Task Force Stamp collection bin. Our first posting netted in excess of 7.000 stamps with a lot more left to trim. Our Wetlands Centre volunteers have kindly agreed to trim and sort the stamps deposited in the bin when they have quiet periods of duty at the weekends. Congratulations to all who kindly saved their stamps for this so worthwhile cause.

  • A good day's work, then!  Well done, and full marks to that fisherman for showing an interest.