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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13586

Year-round offshore distribution, behaviour, and overlap with commercial fisheries of a critically endangered small petrel

Johannes H. Fischer*, Igor Debski, Derek B. Spitz, Graeme A. Taylor, Heiko U. Wittmer

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Without insights into the threats affecting species across their distributions and throughout their annual cycles, effective conservation management cannot be applied. The Whenua Hou Diving Petrel (Pelecanoides whenuahouensis; WHDP) is a critically endangered small seabird whose offshore habits and threats are poorly understood. We tracked WHDPs year-round in 2015/16, 2017/18, and 2018/19 using global location-sensing immersion loggers to identify offshore distribution, movements, behaviour, and overlap with commercial fishing effort. During the breeding period, WHDPs ranged from the south of Aotearoa (New Zealand) to Maukahuka (Auckland Islands). After breeding, WHDPs migrated south-west towards the Polar Front south of Australia, exhibited clockwise movements, and returned to their breeding grounds via the Subantarctic Front. During the non-breeding period, WHDPs exhibited extreme aquatic behaviour and spent >95% of their time on, or under, water. Distributions were consistent across years. Spatial segregation between sexes and between failed and successful breeders was largely absent. The core areas used consistently during breeding and non-breeding periods warrant listing as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas. Spatiotemporal overlap of commercial fishing effort with breeding distributions was considerable (35%), in contrast with non-breeding distributions (0%). The lack of fishing effort and the extreme aquatic behaviour suggests that WHDPs are not affected by fisheries-related threats during the non-breeding period. Spatial restrictions of anthropogenic activity around the breeding colony during the breeding period could help protect WHDPs, but such measures should be subjected to a structured decision-making framework. Our results illustrate the importance of year-round studies to inform conservation of marine species.