A ground-breaking study of Black-capped Petrel is raising questions about conserving an endangered marine species that breeds in few nations but visits the waters of many.
The little-known petrel once had colonies throughout the Caribbean, but in the late 1800s, introduced predators and hunting caused the species to become extirpated on many islands. Today, fewer than 2,000 pairs are thought to remain. Breeding is suspected in Cuba, and the birds may have returned to Dominica, but colonies have been confirmed only in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Petrels that were rearing chicks on Loma del Toro, a peak near the Haiti-Dominican Republic border, were the subjects of the latest study, conducted in 2014. For the first time ever, three were fitted with solar-powered satellite tags and tracked for 136-208 days.
Because petrels are commonly observed in spring and summer months over the continental shelf offshore of the United States, the researchers assumed the tracked birds would commute there from their nest sites. Instead, the birds flew primarily south, foraging for days at a time off the coasts of Venezuela and Colombia before returning to Hispaniola to provision their young. The birds dispersed north after breeding, moving through the Windward Passage to areas off the mid- and southern Atlantic coast, as well as to the Gulf Stream and deeper pelagic waters east of it.
In all, the petrels used waters within 14 different exclusive economic zones, the 200-nautical-mile-wide buffers in which states have special rights regarding the exploration and development of marine resources. “While the species is afforded some legal protection in each country in which it is known to or suspected to breed,” write the researchers, “protection in nations where the species does not breed but where it uses marine habitats is far more difficult to assess.”
Read the paper
Patrick G. R. Jodice, Robert A. Ronconi, Ernst Rupp, George E. Wallace, and Yvan Satgé (2015) First Satellite Tracks of the Endangered Black-capped Petrel, Endangered Species Research, Vol. 29: 23–33, published online November 4, 2015 (PDF).
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