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Using harnesses for tracking seabirds

Ross Wanless, August 29, 2017

Hi all

I have, in the past, been advised not to use a body harness when putting a tracking device on albatrosses. I also am aware of a fatality arising from this system on a tern species. But are there examples of safe harnesses for other groups of seabirds? Is there a general view about this, or are shorter-winged seabirds (alcids?) OK to have body harnesses fitted, but albies not? Other heuristics?

I am aware of the weight issues with tracking bird, this query is specifically about body harnesses. A second, related query, is about other options for long-term attachments - if body harnesses don't work, what else has been tried/is known to be acceptable?

Thanks Ross

Comments ( 2 )

Sylvie Vandenabeele

Sylvie Vandenabeele

Hi Ross,

My name is Sylvie Vandenabeele, I've worked with Prof. Wilson (from Swansea Uni) on this topic during my PhD. I would say that long-term tracking of seabirds remains a challenge for most species. I have done trials in captivity that were promising (seagulls, seaducks,..) and then a few on wild individuals and not all were very successful. It depends rather a lot on the lifestyle of the species. For example, it worked rather well for on seagulls but not on gannets, guillemots and shags which makes me say that body harnesses may not be the best option for all species. Although it depends a lot on the device you attach to it. It was observed that some birds were fine with the harness on its own and then got disturbed as soon as an external device was attached to it. So maybe we just need to wait until devices become even smaller and slimmer. Hope this helps. Best Sylvie.

Nina Dehnhard

Nina Dehnhard

Hello Ross, I was also warned to use harnesses on other groups of seabirds besides the albatrosses, and especially any diving seabirds (which would agree with Sylvie's experiences). I have used tape for tracking Antarctic Petrels, Cape Petrels and Southern Fulmars (using remotely-downloading GPS trackers). For Cape Petrels, about half of the devices stayed on for the duration of the entire breeding season (2 months, which after all is quite some time), but the other two species were quite good in peeling their trackers off (some as quick as within 1 day, others within 1 or 2 weeks...). So, depending on the species, tape can be a longer-term solution as well. Hope this helps. Kind regards, Nina Dehnhard