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Tiny Cameras Capture Albatross’s Feeding Secrets

New footage suggests the birds follow killer whales.
October 6, 2009

Tiny cameras mounted to the backs of black-browed albatrosses show that the animals, which hunt out at sea, may forage by following killer whales. The findings are just one example of a growing body of research using miniaturized cameras to reveal how animals behave in their natural environment. In this study, more than 28,000 pictures were taken from cameras on three albatrosses. The animals were tagged at a breeding colony on Bird Island, South Georgia earlier this year.

A small camera mounted on an albatross shows the birds
interacting with a killer whale.
Credit: National Institute of Polar Research, Japan

According to a press release from the journal PLoS ONE, which published the research:

The amazing pictures reveal albatrosses foraging in groups while at sea collecting food for their chicks. It also provides the first observation of an albatross feeding with a killer whale - a strategy they may adopt for efficiency.

The camera, developed by the National Institute for Polar Research in Tokyo, is removed when the albatross returns to its breeding ground after foraging trips. It is small (the size of a lipstick) and weighs 82g. Although the camera slightly changes the aerodynamic shape of the albatross, it didn’t affect the breeding success of the study birds.

Dr Richard Phillips from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) says, “These images are really interesting. They show us that albatrosses associate with marine mammals in the same way as tropical seabirds often do with tuna. In both cases the prey (usually fish) are directed to the surface and then it’s easy hunting for the birds.”

One of the birds flies past an iceberg.
Credit: National Institute of Polar Research, Japan.
This image shows the birds feeding together.
Credit: National Institute of Polar Research, Japan

For other animal insights caught on camera, check out:

Penguin-Recognition Software

Seals Gather New Ocean Data

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