Fiji Petrels get an X-ray

Three Fiji Petrel specimens were X-rayed to determine their age.

No nesting burrows of the Fiji Petrel have yet been found despite many thousands of man hours of searching since 1984.

One of the problems is that we still do not know when Fiji Petrels arrive in Gau to breed. If we did then we could focus our search efforts at the time when there is the best chance of success.

Over the past 28 years at least 18 Fiji Petrels have landed in villages on Gau Island, probably disoriented by lights, and three of these injured themselves and were not able to be released.

These have been made into study specimens. Two are dry skins and one is a whole specimen kept in alcohol at the Fiji Museum.

The Type Specimen of the Fiji Petrel in the British Museum collected from Gau in 1855
The Type Specimen of the Fiji Petrel in the British Museum collected from Gau in 1855

Very young birds do not have fully ossified skeletons and in some species this is quite distinct on the skull. So the opportunity was taken to Xray the three specimens to see if one or more of them had unossified skull or bones which would determine it to have just fledged – we do not expect young Fiji Petrels to hang about after leaving the nesting burrow – they will head straight out to sea and not return for 3-4 years, in all probability.

So if one of the specimens does have unossified skeleton then it will be a fledgling straight off the nest and this will give us a confirmed breeding date.

With such information we can concentrate our search for the Fiji Petrel nests at the right time of the year.

X-ray of the 3 Fiji Petrel Specimens
X-ray of the 3 Fiji Petrel Specimens

The X-rays were taken courtesy of Aisha Reddy of Veterinary Care, Suva and the X-ray images will be sent to Dr Alan Tennyson of Te Papa Museum, Wellington who is an adviser to NatureFiji-MareqetiViti’s Fiji Petrel Project.