Monitoring is vital for DOC to better understand the southern royal albatross population and to detect trends. Long lived species such as the royal albatross may live to 50 years, but they don’t breed until they are around seven years.
This means long and extensive studies are needed in order to identify changes in their populations. For example, if young birds are being killed, it may take up to eight years before this starts getting noticed at the breeding site.
Sample being taken from the gullet of a southern royal albatross chick for the national wildlife health monitoring programme
In 2009 DOC completed a five year monitoring programme looking at the productivity and survival of the southern royal albatross on Campbell Island, where it breeds almost exclusively.
Enderby Island, in the Auckland Islands, is the only other breeding site for the southern royal albatross. Enderby hosts around 50 pairs every year.
This project involved a census of the whole island, as well as detailed monitoring of selected sites.
The establishment of farming in 1895 is thought to have had a significant impact on the number of southern royal albatross nests on the island. In 1957 there were only about 2300, an all time low.
The end of farming (1931), the island’s classification as a nature reserve (1954) and its subsequent restoration, saw southern royal albatross numbers recover.
During the 1990s numbers of southern royal albatross on Campbell Island increased to around 8000 nests per year. They remained at this level during the early 2000s.
Currently there are around 7000 nests per year. There are 14,000 breeding pairs in total – because they only breed every two years the number of birds, and therefore the number of nests, on the island in any given year is around half that.
It is possible that a number of factors may be influencing the population dynamics of southern royal albatross on Campbell Island – the impact of fisheries bycatch; environmental changes such as sea surface temperature; and changes to the vegetation on the island.
The project on Campbell Island found hooks near nests where the birds have regurgitated them. On occasion the researchers have found birds with hooks embedded in their legs or down their gullet. Pieces of plastic mistaken for food and brought back to feed the chicks have been located at the nests and in some other species chicks have been killed through ingesting large amounts of plastic.
Southern Royal Albatross on Campbell Island