Disappointment Island, home to over 100,000 white-capped albatrosses. PHOTO: Barry Baker

Scientists are heading to the Auckland Islands on Wednesday to complete an annual census of the white-capped albatross.

The birds are endemic to New Zealand, breeding on the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands in the Southern Ocean, 465 kilometres south of Bluff.

The survey by helicopter is to track the albatross population size and trends.

“These are important birds, that at times interact with our fisheries, so it’s vital for us to know how they are doing because we all need them to prosper,” said Richard Wells of Deepwater Group, a non-profit co-operative of deepwater fisheries quota owners.

In its ninth year, this year’s white-capped albatross census is a collaboration between the Department of Conservation, Seafood New Zealand, Deepwater Group and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Funding in previous years had come from either DOC or MPI, but because of limited resources due to Conservation Services Programme efforts on the Chatham Islands, others were needed to step up.

“The seafood sector were keen to be involved and initiated a fundraising effort, which has been successful and means this important work can continue,” Wells said.

“It is important to have a continuous and consistent set of data to give the best possible scientific information.”

There are hundreds of thousands of the white-capped albatross breeding on the Auckland Islands each year, which is estimated to be over 95 percent of the world wide population.

“The survey allows us to create valuable data sets that give consistent information on breeding patterns and adult populations,” Wells said.

A survey of New Zealand sea lion pups will take place simultaneously.

The New Zealand sea lion is the world’s rarest sea lion and classified as nationally critical.

Around two thirds of all pups are born at the Auckland Islands.

The sea lion survey has been running since 1996 and will focus on three different locations: Sandy Bay on Enderby Island, Dundas Island and Figure of Eight Island.

The 2016 survey estimated there were 1727 pups on the island, a 15 percent increase on the lowest estimate from 2009.

The New Zealand sealion study is funded by DOC.