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New albatross ambassador needs a name

23 July 2019

Northern royal albatross/toroa is back in the spotlight as a new Royal Cam star prepares to take to the skies this summer.

Back by popular demand, the annual competition to name a northern royal chick at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head is now in its fourth year.

“Joining Moana, Tūmanako and Amīria before her, this young albatross is an ambassador not just for her species, but seabirds everywhere. She needs a name to reflect her special status,” says DOC biodiversity ranger, Sharyn Broni.

Royal Cam has grown in popularity over the past four years, totalling more than 3.4 million views on YouTube from 198 countries. An entranced audience has left more than 140,000 comments on the Royal Cam chat forum.

“Soon after she receives her new name, this chick will be flying 9000km across the Pacific Ocean to the squid rich waters of the Humboldt Current near South America,” says Sharyn.

The northern royal albatross faces a variety of threats and challenges when it leaves the safety of the Southern Hemisphere’s only mainland colony, including plastics and the growing impact of climate change on ocean temperatures and feeding grounds.

“We’ve previously collected plastic fragments that birds have swallowed in the ocean. It’s sad to see the impact of human behaviour on birds so close to home, but this is the reality of what these birds are dealing with once they leave the sanctuary of Taiaroa Head,” says Sharyn.

If ingested, plastic can cause blockages in the gut, especially in the tight gizzard area between the stomach and the small intestine. Last year, all four regurgitations collected from pre-fledging chicks contained plastic that had been fed to them by their parents.

Royal Albatross Centre staff collect more than 6kg of plastic rubbish every month at Pilots beach, below the albatross sanctuary.

Plastic is among the most pressing threats to seabirds globally. It gets into the ocean by the millions of tonnes a year, breaks down into bite-sized chunks, and ends up smelling just like an albatross feast. 90% of seabirds have been found to consume plastic.”

The Royal Cam chick has the tough task of drawing attention to the plight she and other seabirds are facing.

Taiaroa Head is home to estimated 10,000 other seabirds, including nationally vulnerable and threatened species like red-billed gulls and Otago shags. Royal Albatross Centre Marketing Manager, Sophie Barker says the Royal Cam chick is an amazing ambassador for marine birdlife.

“Each week we have eager fans visiting our tours and making changes to their lives after they learn of the threats to her environment. We’re very excited to find out her name!”

The Royal Cam competition launches today and runs for one week. People can learn more about the competition and how to enter by

Background information
The prize package includes:
• Two nights’ accommodation at Larnach Lodge
• A tour of the Royal Albatross Centre, plus lunch at the Royal Albatross Centre
• An evening tour at Blue Penguins Pukekura
• Visit to Glenfalloch Garden

Why do seabirds eat plastic?:
Learn more about albatross:
• Northern royal albatross/toroa are an icon of Dunedin with a conservation status of ‘at risk - naturally uncommon’. They are a taonga species for Ngāi Tahu.
• With a wingspan of over three metres, Northern royal albatrosses are among the largest seabirds in the world.
• The Pukekura/Taiaroa Head albatross colony is the only mainland place in the world to view Northern royal albatross in their natural habitat.
• DOC manages the albatross colony with the support of the Otago Peninsula Trust, Te Poari a Pukekura (Pukekura Co-management Trust) and Dunedin City Council. It has grown from one breeding pair in 1937 to about 65 pairs in 2017.


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