Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Albatrosses could police the oceans for illegal fishing

Albatrosses could police the oceans for illegal fishing
31 Mar
2020
Recruiting armies of albatrosses could enable the detection of illegal fishing

Simple conservation can sometimes yield more information than expected. When a team of French researchers attached logging devices to 170 albatrosses in the Southern Ocean, their aim was to learn more about the birds’ behaviour and to understand the ways in which the curious creatures interact with shipping vessels. They didn’t plan to set up a policing system. 

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MONTHLY PRINT MAGAZINE!
Subscribe to Geographical today for just £38 a year. Our monthly print magazine is packed full of cutting-edge stories and stunning photography, perfect for anyone fascinated by the world, its landscapes, people and cultures. From climate change and the environment, to scientific developments and global health, we cover a huge range of topics that span the globe. Plus, every issue includes book recommendations, infographics, maps and more!

The logging devices worn by the birds featured GPS and a miniature radar detector, which picks up a boat’s location whenever an albatross gets within around three miles of it. The team found that they were able to cross-check the location information that came back with ‘automatic identification system’ (AIS) data – a voluntary system whereby boats in international waters can declare their location. Of the 353 fishing vessels detected over a six-month period, 28 per cent had their AIS switched off – an indication that a ship might be practising illegal trawling or fishing. 

The researchers believe that this method can now be used to patrol the ocean and keep an eye out for boats not self-identifying. It is also being trialled in New Zealand and Hawaii as a conservation aid for other marine species such as sharks and sea turtles. ‘I think it can be used in several ways,’ says Henri Weimerskirch, a marine ornithologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research. ‘One way is for our conservation research, but it also provides information on the location of illegal fisheries – something that is not available otherwise – and it provides information on the location and the number of vessels not using the AIS when they are operating in international waters.’

Recruiting the birds in this way allows monitoring of areas otherwise unaccessible due to the sheer vastness of the ocean. Over the course of six months, the albatrosses surveyed over 20 million square miles. ‘Some people ask me why we aren’t using drones,’ says Weimerskirch. ‘But we are working in very isolated areas, there is no air strip, there is nothing in the area within thousands of kilometres. You cannot do it with a drone. Whereas the birds are very attracted to fishing vessels and can detect them up to 30 kilometres away. They are very efficient at finding vessels in the ocean.’

Stay connected with the Geographical newsletter!
signup buttonIn these turbulent times, we’re committed to telling expansive stories from across the globe, highlighting the everyday lives of normal but extraordinary people. Stay informed and engaged with Geographical.

Get Geographical’s latest news delivered straight to your inbox every Friday!

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Oceans

Scientists are discovering that narwhal tusks reveal a great deal about…

Climate

Climate change is bringing earlier, dangerous 'false springs', longer summers…

Wildlife

A victory for conservation, South Africa has announced plans to…

Energy

The UK has made little progress decarbonising heating, but a significant source…

Nature

The concept of 'natural capital', where the value of nature…

Geophoto

Prestigious photography competition returns for a fourth year

Climate

Founded in the USA by Denis Hayes, Earth Day became…

Geophoto

Tom Goldner's project Do Brumbies Dream in Red? is an intimate portrayal…

Wildlife

Not your usual tune: translating spider's silk into sound could…

Oceans

Millions of oysters have been rescued from the struggling shellfish…

Climate

History is littered with examples of fungi helping to digest…

Geophoto

The streets of Philadelphia are home to a small and forgotten…

Geophoto

When photographer Matthew Maran first snapped a fox he had…

Wildlife

Coloradans have voted to reintroduce grey wolves to the state

Energy

Covid-19 provides an opportunity to re-assess the supply chains of…

Geophoto

Andrea DiCenzo is a photojournalist, who has covered conflicts for…

Oceans

Field observations of corals around the world reveal that not…

Climate

The Great Plains of the USA are once again getting…

Climate

Attempts to build a digital twin of the Earth could…