Mysterious Fiji petrel sighting raises hopes

September 14, 2009
A petrel photographed off the north-east coast of Papua New Guinea, in August 2007. The first ever positive identification at sea of one of the world's most mysterious and endangered seabirds has raised hopes for the survival of the Fijian petrel, conservationists have said.

The first ever positive identification at sea of one of the world's most mysterious and endangered seabirds has raised hopes for the survival of the Fijian petrel, conservationists said Monday.

After one specimen was identified in 1855, the Fiji petrel virtually disappeared and was not positively identified again for 130 years.

A successful 11-day expedition by scientists to the seas off the Fijian island of Gau in May was the first time the chocolate coloured petrel had ever been positively identified on the water.

The sighting was made public last week when an expedition organised by Fijian organisation NatureFiji-MareqetiViti announced the find in the latest issue of Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club.

Now there are hopes that renewed efforts to find the petrel's nesting burrows believed to be on Gau island can lead to protection measures to ensure the survival of the critically .

"We really can't get ahead with conserving this bird until we find nesting burrows," Dick Watling of NatureFiji-MareqetiViti told AFP.

"Only when we find those burrows can we protect them and then be assured we've got a population that is recruiting young," he said.

Watling was the first to rediscover the on land at Gau in 1984, using a spotlight at night to attract one of the elusive petrels.

Since then there have been around 16 mainly unconfirmed sightings on Gau, due in many cases to the birds crashlanding on house roofs at night.

The organisation believes probably only about 50 Fiji petrels survive, adding urgency to attempts to find the nesting burrows in forested rugged hills on Gau, which lies about 90 kilometres (56 miles) east of Fiji's main island of Viti Levu.

Watling said new international funding will allow another sea trip in October in the hopes of capturing a petrel and fitting it with a transmitter to hopefully lead scientists to nesting sites.

The funding will also allow specially trained dogs to be brought from New Zealand next year to try to find the nest burrows.

Watling said it was not clear what caused the birds to become so endangered, except their burrows are vulnerable to rats, and feral cats and pigs.

"Petrels are very smelly, humans can smell them, so cats and pigs would be able to smell them a mile off," he said.

"They're still very much an enigma. In the 25 years since rediscovery we've spent a long time searching for the petrel burrows up in the mountains in the forests on Gau without any success."

The success of the May expedition was due to using an extremely odorous and oily concoction of fish offal, which was frozen into blocks and dropped in the sea to attract seabirds.

On the second day, the first Fiji petrel appeared and up to eight individual Fiji Petrels were seen over 11 days in an area around 25 nautical miles south of Gau.

(c) 2009 AFP

Explore further: 'Time-sharing' tropical birds key to evolutionary mystery

Related Stories

'Time-sharing' tropical birds key to evolutionary mystery

November 13, 2007

Whereas most birds are sole proprietors of their nests, some tropical species “time share” together – a discovery that helps clear up a 150-year-old evolutionary mystery, says Queen’s University Biology professor ...

Bermuda says rare national bird born on reserve

April 17, 2009

(AP) -- A fuzzy fledgling of Bermuda's national bird, spotted on a secluded offshore sanctuary this week, may help bring the rare creature back from the brink of extinction.

Forget better mouse traps: save the forest

April 13, 2006

Wildlife Conservation Society scientists in New York say the most cost-effective way to control rats on the Fiji Islands is to protect standing forests.

Scientists discover a new Pacific iguana

September 18, 2008

A new iguana has been discovered in the central regions of Fiji. The colorful new species, named Brachylophus bulabula, joins only two other living Pacific iguana species, one of which is critically endangered. The scientific ...

Recommended for you

Re-cloning of first cloned dog deemed successful thus far

November 22, 2017

(—A team of researchers with Seoul National University, Michigan State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has re-cloned the first dog to be cloned. In their paper published in the journal ...

Testing the advantage of being left-handed in sports

November 22, 2017

(—Sports scientist Florian Loffing with the Institute of Sport Science, University of Oldenburg in Germany has conducted a study regarding the possibility of left-handed athletes having an advantage over their ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.