I have a habit. When I am out at sea, I always listen to music...

My name is Gabriel Sampaio, I am a marine biologist and an ATF instructor in Brazil. I recently got back from a 2 week long trip on-board the Maria - a 24 metre long pelagic longline fishing vessel operating in southern Brazil. This was actually the first vessel I ever did an ATF trip on and being on-board the Maria again made me think back to that very first trip in December 2018.

 To the left: ATF Instructor Gabirel Sampaio and fisher onboard the pelagic longline vessel Maria in southern Brazil. 

I was out at sea testing the effectiveness of the Hook Pod, a mitigation device that shields baited hooks on longlines until they have sunk to a depth at which birds can no longer get to them. Upon reaching >10m depth, a pressure release mechanism causes the device to open, allowing target fish such as tuna and swordfish to be caught (for more information click here). We were 300 miles (540 km) off the coast, in waters 4000 meters deep. I had never been so far out at sea before but I was excited about the possibility of encountering unusual or rare seabird species!

After 20 hours of getting all the equipment ready for the experimental Hook Pod trial with the crew, the fishing operations could finally begin and I started to monitor seabird abundance around the vessel. There was a large group of spectacled petrels, a few young Yellow-nosed albatross and a juvenile Royal albatross following the boat during the haul.

Few experiences are as touching as the sighting of a giant albatross, which can reach wingspans of over 3 metres! Even the juveniles are remarkably large. As the birds gracefully circled around the Maria, using the wind to effortlessly glide through the air, while waiting for their next meal to be served (on the baited fish hooks), I climbed to the bow of the boat to get a closer look at the young albatross flying next to us. Following its elegant, carefree flight I was amazed at the precision of its movements and the ease with which it took advantage of the wind. I could hear Riding with the King by Eric Clapton and B.B. King playing through my headphones. The Royal albatross seemed to be listening to the song with me…After all I was actually next to the king, or at least a prince, of seabirds!                   

As the song was coming to an end, I became distracted and caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a huge sheepskin through my binoculars. At first, I thought it was a large dark petrel and didn’t pay much attention to it.  But then, to my surprise, I realised it was a sooty albatross - one of only two dark-plumaged albatrosses in the Southern Ocean. This endangered species nests on sub-Antarctic islands and is really quite rare in Brazilian waters (with only a few records of sightings). I was thrilled as I had been trying to see this species for the past 5 years and even managed to get some photos of it during the 15 days we were fishing in the area.  

Ironically, the song that started to play as I stopped paying attention to the young royal albatross was Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones. So, I thought, even albatrosses paint themselves black once in a while it seems!  

A year has now gone by since that first trip on the Maria, and I am still spending my days testing Hook Pods in the pelagic longline fleet in Brazil and listening to the same songs. But no two trips are the same and every time you head out to sea it’s a new, incredible experience. So you never know what to expect! What you see at sea, you can only see at sea ... We are privileged to be able to live alongside these incredible creatures and share our knowledge about their conservation with the fishermen we meet along the way.

By Gabriel Sampaio / ATF instructor - Brazil

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