We all know that water covers a significant proportion of the Earth. But how much does it cover? According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, oceans cover about 361.9 million square kilometres, a sheer 70.9 percent of the Earth's surface. And in this vast area, boats engaging in illegal fishing or human trafficking have good reason to hide. However, no matter how stealthy a vessel can be, it can never escape the eye of an albatross.
Albatrosses have phenomenal senses to pick up all the interesting events. When it comes down to fishing, nothing can bypass an albatross. Let's consider wandering albatross, a species of the group particularly studied for its free-roaming behaviour over the big blue oceans. According to a work featured in Science Direct, the species flies 8.5 million kilometres in average during their lifetimes. To simplify, an albatross can fly to the Moon and back more than ten times!
Albatrosses are built for gliding, an adaptation to support for prolonged flights. Mature wandering albatross weigh over 5-13 kilograms, but, blessed with the longest wingspan (3.5 metres) of any birds. The combination helps albatrosses to sustain some of the strongest winds on the Earth.
Recently, the keen sense of albatrosses sparked interest among researchers. These birds might have a promising career as sea sentinels! The research, led by Dr Weimerskirch from the Université de la Rochelle and featured in the journal PLOS One, was conducted on 169 albatrosses, each attached with roughly two-ounce data loggers. For a year the researchers observed the birds, foraging for 10 to 15 days at a time, flying thousands of miles per trip. Data-logger attached to the birds picked up radar blips from 353 fishing-vessels.
When cross-checking with the number of vessels operating during the study-periods, researchers found a stark disparity. Only 253 of the operating fishing-vessels were with effective registrared Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder, a requirement set by International Maritime Organization for every vessels. This means the rest of the vessels the albatrosses had picked up were fishing under cloak, illegally without permit.
The research concluded one intriguing fact. Albatrosses with data loggers can be applied to monitor high-sea fishing activity. In this technique, both the birds' radar detections and AIS information could be downloaded nearly in real-time, in turn, which can help governments to identify illegal vessels faster than anything else.
Albatross, in myths and lores, are praised as the guardians of the seas. Since long, these birds have served as guide and good omen to the fisherfolks. Can they now act as sentinels to protect the fading maritime resources?