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Petrel Pelagic Dips

Search continues for Fiji Petrel…

An expedition in search of Fiji’s only endemic seabird - Critically Endangered Fiji Petrel Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi – had to be aborted. Conservation action now continues to focus upon working alongside local communities to locate and protect their elusive breeding grounds.

The rare petrel was previously known from just one specimen collected in 1855 on Gau Island, Fiji. However, there have been more sightings in recent years from the small island, and a bird was captured and released there in 1984 by Dr Dick Watling of MareqetiViti (NatureFiji).

The recent voyage aimed to provide the first confirmed reports of Fiji Petrel at sea. The scientists were also keen to test the possibility of catching and fitting adults with radio transmittors. However, the trip had to be abandoned after three days due to mechanical problems with the survey vessel.Hadoram Shirihai – an ornithologist on the expedition - commented: “It was most frustrating for us to leave prematurely without confirmed sightings of this elusive bird”.

However, the crew did manage to view some impressive seabirds. Sightings included the first confirmed White-throated Storm-petrel Nesofregetta fuliginosa (Vulnerable) in the Fiji and Samoa biogeographical region for 132 years. Also observed were the first and second confirmed Fijian sightings respectively of White-bellied Storm-petrel Fregetta grallaria and Kermadec Petrel Pterodroma neglecta.

< “It is evident from our records the real possibilities for groundbreaking research in this marine area”, noted Mr Shirihai.The Fiji Petrel is classified as Critically Endangered because it is estimated that there is only a tiny population, which is confined to a very small breeding area. Furthermore, it is assumed to be declining because of predation by introduced species such as cats, rats and feral pigs.

“The most urgent priority remains locating and protecting the breeding grounds” noted Dr Dick Watling. Repeated surveys attempting to find evidence of breeding on Gau Island have been unsuccessful.

The BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme aims to save all 190 Critically Endangered birds. NatureFiji - the Species Guardian for Fiji Petrel – have benefited from funds donated by the Species Champion The British Birdwatching Fair. Conservation has involved working alongside the National Trust of Fiji to build capacity for community conservation.

“We are now planning to find breeding locations by radio-tracking adults back to their nest sites, and by searching for nests using specially trained sniffer-dogs”, said Dr Watling.Another expedition is planned for July 2009 to continue searching for the elusive seabird. Limited spaces are available. The second edition of Hadoram Shirihai’s book, A complete guide to Antarctic wildlife, has recently been published. All author royalties from the sale of the book are kindly being donated to BirdLife's Save The Albatross Campaign. BirdLife would like to take the opportunity to thank Hadoram for his extremely generous support. If you would like to read more about the 2008 Fiji Petrel Expedition, or to enquire about a planned 2009, click here. Hadoram also has a new book in preparation entitled Albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters of the world: a handbook to their taxonomy, identification, ecology and conservation.

4th July 2014