The white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) on South Georgia: population size, distribution and global significance

Abstract

More white-chinned petrels (Procellaria aequinoctialis) are accidentally killed in fisheries than probably any other seabird in the world, but the population impact of this mortality is poorly understood, partly because there have been no recent estimates of the species’ abundance. The breeding aggregation on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia is believed to be larger than all others combined. We estimated the size of this population by calculating the area of suitable habitat and the density of occupied burrows within it. Some 670,000 occupied nests were estimated for the island at mid-incubation, representing 0.9 million pairs of breeding-age birds associated with South Georgia in the survey seasons (2005/06 and 06/07). This is 40–45% of the previous estimate, but still represents well over half of the global population. If the population is declining due to fishery bycatch, as is likely, the scale of annual mortality in this population alone is at least in the high tens of thousands, and plausibly hundreds of thousands.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Dion Poncet, Leiv Poncet, Ken Passfield, Steve Cartwright, Kilian de Couedic and Russell Evans for running the SV Golden Fleece and looking after the field team so well, and Ash Morton, Catrin Thomas, Olly Watts, Andy Black, Leiv Poncet, Carolina Mantella and Ronnie Reyes-Arriagada for their contribution to the fieldwork. Peter Rothery kindly contributed statistical advice, and Richard Phillips was an excellent source of advice and stimulating discussion. Funding for this study was provided by the Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP) and the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. This study is a contribution to the BAS Discovery 2010 research programme.

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Correspondence to A. R. Martin.

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Martin, A.R., Poncet, S., Barbraud, C. et al. The white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) on South Georgia: population size, distribution and global significance. Polar Biol 32, 655 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-008-0570-5

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Keywords

  • White-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis)
  • Population size
  • Burrow-nesting
  • South Georgia
  • Antarctic