Southern Ocean sea birds

Antarctic tern flying
Antarctic tern flying (Photo: Greg Stone)
Grey headed albatross chicks
Sub-antarctic islands play a vital role in the life cycle of Southern Ocean birds. Many man-made pressures have caused the decline in albatross numbers and much is being done to reverse this.
  • Ask students to describe the vital role that sub-Antarctic islands have in the survival of animals in the Southern Ocean. (Emphasise their importance as places for breeding. The islands are also used for moulting, and some species are present during winter.)
  • Have students research which birds breed on Macquarie Island, which breed on Heard Island, and what sort of nesting sites they use. See seabird bycatch and the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) site. See also flying birds in the fact files on the Australian Antarctic Division's website.
  • Ask students to investigate the factors that have caused the decline in albatross numbers. (At most breeding localities albatross populations are decreasing as a result of being caught on long-lines and drowned. This is exacerbated by the fact that they reach reproductive maturity later in their lives and then only lay one egg every two years.) Has anything been done to address the problem? (Methods to reduce the albatross catch on long-lines include use of streamers to deter the birds from the long-lines, weighted lines to make baited hooks sink faster, prohibition of long-lining during daylight hours, and education of long-lining companies.)
  • Some marvellous classroom activities about albatrosses, complete with printable materials, can be found at The Albatross Project. Particularly good are: How big are your wings, in which students compare mammalian body parts to avian body parts and discuss how species have developed different survival techniques; Graph-ATross in which students learn how to make visual representations of scientific data (using real albatross data); and Walk a Mile in Albatross Shoes in which they learn about pollution and how eating plastic affects albatrosses in real life. See the Franklin Institute site for a wonderful outline of the physical characteristics of birds and the mechanics of flight.
This page was last modified on July 3, 2014.