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The distribution and abundance of white-chinned petrels (Procellaria aequinoctialis) breeding at the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands

Abstract

The white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) is the seabird most often killed on longlines in the Southern Ocean and is listed as vulnerable to extinction. We estimated the population breeding at the Prince Edward Islands, the last breeding site for the nominate subspecies that lacks a recent population estimate. White-chinned petrel burrows are largely confined to deep, muddy soils, usually on slopes below 200 m, but locally up to 420 m. After correcting for count bias, Marion Island has an estimated 29,900 nests (95 % CI 27,700–32,400). Burrow occupancy rates at the start of the incubation period were 65 % during one-off surveys, but repeat surveys found that at least 73 % of burrows were occupied and 87 % of burrows showed signs of occupancy. This suggests that there were roughly 24,000 occupied nests on Marion Island (95 % CI 20,000–28,000). A more cursory survey on Prince Edward Island yielded 14,700 burrows, suggesting that there are 9,000–15,000 occupied nests. The nominate subspecies of white-chinned petrel occupies approximately 974,200 nests (95 % CI 678,000–1,286,000), with the Prince Edward Islands, the third most important breeding site, after South Georgia and Kerguelen. Assuming that populations breeding at islands in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans winter in different regions, the impact of fishery bycatch is likely to have had a greater impact on the Indian Ocean population. The Marion Island survey provides a baseline against which future population changes can be assessed.

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Acknowledgments

An earlier draft of this paper was substantially improved by comments from John Cooper, Karin Delord, and Alan Burger. We thank Mia Cerfonteyn for conducting density estimates on Marion Island and John Cooper, Bruce Dyer, Azwianewi Makhado, Leshia Upfold, and Ross Wanless for assistance with counts on Prince Edward Island. Rob Crawford, Marthan Bester, Delia Davies, Samantha Petersen, Johan Visagie, Dave Whitelaw, and Phil Whittington also assisted with field surveys. Ian Meikeljohn kindly provided elevation data for inland breeding locations at Marion Island. The Department of Environmental Affairs provided logistical support. Financial support was received from the Marine Living Resources Fund, the University of Cape Town and the National Research Foundation (South African National Antarctic Programme). Permission to visit the Prince Edward Islands was granted by the Prince Edward Islands’ Management Committee.

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Ryan, P.G., Dilley, B.J. & Jones, M.G.W. The distribution and abundance of white-chinned petrels (Procellaria aequinoctialis) breeding at the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands. Polar Biol 35, 1851–1859 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-012-1227-y

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Keywords

  • White-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis)
  • Population size
  • Prince Edward Islands
  • Regional fishing mortality