Race scrapped as competitors perish

A race highlighting the tough realities facing the albatross has been abandoned after all 17 competitors have died before crossing the finishing line.

The annual Big Bird Race, run by bookies Ladbrokes, charts the progress of fledgling Tasmanian shy albatrosses as they migrate from Australia to South Africa (see related story).

But this year, all 17 celebrity-backed birds have failed to make the perilous journey, either swallowed up by the icy Southern Ocean or failing to even build up the strength to ever leave their island homes.

At this stage, the exact cause of death of the birds is unknown - with the only currently plausible explanation being poor fishing conditions.

Little penguins are having a catastrophic breeding season in both Tasmania and Victoria, and gannets in Tasmania have fledged very few chicks this year.

Such levels of albatross mortality have never been scientifically recorded before as the Big Bird Race has been the only formal studies on migrating juvenile Albatrosses.

These findings, while tragic, are therefore of inestimable conservation importance.

Tim Nevard, the instigator of the race said: "We are witnessing a real environmental disaster occurring in the Southern Ocean this year, the evidence being revealed by the data gathered by the race being truly tragic.

"Mother Nature has been the harshest of judges - underlining, if ever one needed to, the absolute urgency in curtailing the catastrophic additional effects of longline fishing in order to allow enough birds to survive to reach breeding age."

By Sam Bond



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