The shy albatross is listed as vulnerable under the Threatened Species Protection Act 1995. Altogether, five other albatrosses are listed - three of these are endangered - the wandering, black-browed and grey-headed albatrosses.
Why are so many albatross threatened?
Albatross are threatened species because of two main factors. Firstly albatross are very slow maturers. Some species take up to ten years before they reach reproductive maturity. Then they only lay one egg every two years. Secondly their lifestyle leads them into danger. Albatross are great fliers. They leave their nest sites as juveniles and spend up to five years at sea. Albatross catch fish by diving under the water. These techniques have stood them in good stead for thousands of years. However human fishing practices have taken an incalculable toll on these seafaring birds.
Longline fishing is a huge threat to these birds. It's estimated that up to 1500 shy albatross are killed each year on longlines out of a total population of 12,000 breeding pairs. Albatross get caught when the longlines are newly baited and cast into the water. The birds feed on the still floating fish bait, become hooked and are then dragged under the water and drowned.
What is being done?
We have been studying shy albatross populations for the past fifteen years. One of our wildlife officers has developed practical and economically viable solutions to threat to albatross from longline tuna fishing. These include an automatic bait caster which consistently throws the bait further from the boat. Lines thrown closer to the boat are pushed to the surface by the action of the propeller.
In 1996, three juveniles were fitted with transmitters. They travelled in the Great Australian Bight and Indian Ocean before the transmitters fell out. (It is planned to repeat the project). This was to find out about their migration routes and where they congregate at certain times of the year. This information can then be used to try and reduce seabird by-catch. Such strategies are being adopted by the longlining companies and included in our national regulations. Education of both the general public and longlining companies is a very important part in helping to reduce such threats to these birds.