One in three boats fishing in international waters is probably doing so illegally – and we know that thanks to a fleet of 170 specially-equipped albatrosses.
Over six months they monitored more than 47 million square kilometres of the Southern Ocean, looking for vessels not using an automatic identification system (AIS).
That means they probably had not declared they were in the area – but they still needed to use radar to navigate.
The birds were equipped with a GPS and a miniature radar detector that could pick up radar signals and indicate a boat’s position directly to the scientists. If it did not correspond to the position of a vessel identified by AIS, the boat may have been involved in illegal activity.
Albatrosses are perfect for the task because they fly great distances and are particularly attracted by fishing boats.
The project – part of the European Ocean Sentinel program – was led by scientists from the Centre d’études biologiques de Chizé (CNRS) in France, in collaboration with the University of Liverpool, UK.
The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.