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Albatross Satellites

May 8, 2017

High-resolution space satellites monitor threatened albatross populations in remote areas of the world.


Northern Royal Paul Scofield

A Northern Royal Albatross and chick. (Paul Scofield)


Bird spy satellites. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Great albatrosses, with their 11-foot wingspans, are some of the world’s most accomplished long-distance migratory birds, capable of circumnavigating the globe. Until now, it’s been difficult to monitor these threatened species, because they breed on remote islands in the southern Ocean. But in the journal Ibis, researchers report for the first time that new, super high-resolution space satellites make it possible to accurately count each individual bird. British Antarctic Survey geographer Peter Fretwell led the study.

PETER FRETWELL (British Antarctic Survey):

When we got the satellite imagery of these albatross colonies, we could see the albatross as small white dots on a green background, and they were quite obvious and easy to count.


The technique has already documented changes in colony sizes, and could be a cost-effective way to monitor populations of other large animals as well. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard

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An albatross colony in the southern ocean. (Paul Scofield)