How Can Illegal Fishing Be Stopped?

According to maritime lore, seeing an albatross is considered good luck for a sailor. Now, thanks to the work of marine ecologists, these large seabirds could also signal trouble for anyone fishing illegally..

Researchers are using albatross fitted with radar detectors to find ships that are fishing illegally.
Researchers are using albatross fitted with radar detectors to find ships that are fishing illegally.

After several years of study and development, a team of researchers has come up with a strategy to catch vessels fishing in off-limits waters by fitting albatross with data loggers that can detect radar signals from dozens of miles away. While ships can easily switch off the required beacons that identify their location, they are less likely to turn off radar, as it helps prevent collisions.

By equipping the albatross with the loggers, the scientists can protect both the fish and the birds themselves, which sometimes get caught in fishing hooks.

"These are animal cops," said Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Canada. "You’re empowering animals to survey their own environment for conservation purposes."

In early studies, the albatross helped the researchers learn that more than a third of the vessels operating in the southern Indian Ocean were doing so illicitly. The success of the albatross could lead to smaller data loggers being placed on other birds and possibly creatures as small as turtles.

All about the albatross:

  • Although the wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any bird, reaching more than 11 feet (3.4 m), its ancestor, the Pelagornis, had a wingspan of 17 feet (5.2 m) or more.

  • An albatross can fly for thousands of miles by flying upward into the wind, cruising as it plummets, and repeating the pattern.

  • Although an albatross can maneuver on land better than most other seabirds, it spends about 80 percent of its life at sea.

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