New Research Uncovers the Mysterious Life of Juvenile Grey-headed Albatross

New research gives a glimpse of the life and threats that Grey-headed Albatross face once they fledge and leave South Georgia Island.

The sub-Antarctic Island of South Georgia is home to a many rare and threatened bird and due to the removal of invasive species by the South Georgia Heritage Trust and partners, many of these species are on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, the Grey-headed Albatross population has not experienced the same miraculous recovery after the removal of invasive species that other species have had.

Approximately half the global population of Grey-headed Albatross nests on South Georgia Island each year but researchers knew very little about where they go after fledging. All they knew was that seven years later Grey-headed Albatross should return to the island. However, the juveniles were not returning and since 1977, their population on the island has been cut in half.


Grey-headed Albatross populations have been in decline in the largest breeding colony on South Georgia Island. Credit: British Antarctic Survey

Richard Phillips, a British Antarctic Survey seabird researcher, explains:

We’ve been intensively monitoring albatrosses on Bird Island for over 40 years, and from recording re-sightings of ringed birds, we worked out that survival rates in the first few years after leaving the colony were far lower than expected, which was a major contributor to the population decline. However, we had little idea of what was happening to the birds before they returned.”

In order to uncover what exactly was happening during those seven years, the researchers at the British Antarctic Survey decided it was time to tag a few juveniles just before they fledge and leave the island. In May 2018, 16 satellite tags were attached to 16 albatross chicks, although only 9 juveniles made it off the island due to natural predation.


Satellite tags were attached to 16 chicks in the nest. Credit: Derren Fox

The data is already helping researchers formulate an idea of the threats these seabirds face. Stephanie Winnard, International Marine Project Officer for the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds (RSPB) explained:

Initial results have shown some of the juveniles headed to the area where they were reported to have been killed by the Japanese fishery, which is the first time we’ve tracked the species to that area.”

Although this is only the beginning of the search for answers, conservationists are hopeful that by understanding the off-shore threats and preventing the reintroduction of invasive species, the Grey-headed Albatross population on South Georgia can thrive once again.

Source: BirdLife International
Featured photo: Grey-headed Albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma), East of the Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania, Australia. Credit: JJ Harrison/Wikimedia Commons

About Emily Heber

Emily is a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Zoology. As a student, she discovered that she had a passion for the conservation of endangered species and their ecosystems. Her background in informal education has allowed her the opportunity to share her passion for animals with others, something she seeks to continue doing while working with the communication team. In her spare time, Emily enjoys exploring the amazing hiking trails found in Santa Cruz and tries to SCUBA dive whenever possible. Emily is excited to join the Island Conservation team and to help share the amazing work that is being done here.

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