First ever pictures of the Fiji Petrel at sea

A NatureFiji-MareqetiViti organised expedition returns with the first ever photographs of the Critically Endangered Fiji Petrel.

An expedition to find the Critically Endangered Kacau ni Gau – Fiji Petrel Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi at sea has been successful, returning with stunning images and new information on one of the world’s least-known seabirds.(1) (2)

Known from just one specimen collected in 1855 on Gau Island, Fiji, the Fiji Petrel was lost for the next 130 years. Since 1984 there have been a handful of reports of “grounded” Kacau ni Gau that had crashed onto village roofs on Gau. Until now there had been no confirmed sightings of the seabird at sea. (3)

Fiji Petrels spend all their life at sea except when they return to Gau (Photo: Hadoram Shirihai) to breed
Fiji Petrels spend all their life at sea except when they return to Gau (Photo: Hadoram Shirihai) to breed

In May 2009, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, the official BirdLife Species Guardian for the Fiji Petrel, mounted a search for this enigmatic petrel with the assistance of petrel specialist and renowned photographer, Hadoram Shirihai, and the experienced Fiji ornithologist and photographer, Joerg Kretzchmar. On board too was the National Trust’s Fiji Petrel Warden, Amania Taukei from Lovu, Gau, and NatureFiji’-MareqetiViti’s Kolinio Moce from Nukuloa, Gau. (4)

Up to eight individual Fiji Petrels were seen over eleven days in an area around 25 nautical miles south of Gau. Finding Fiji Petrel at sea was no accident, combining meticulous planning and luring the seabirds with a specially made food, called “chum”. The main ingredients of chum? Fish offal, cut into small pieces and mixed with very dense fish oil, to which water was added and then frozen in 10-kg blocks. The chum was prepared a few weeks ahead by volunteers from NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, and kept frozen at the expedition base at Nukuloa, Gau.

First at sea photos of the Fiji Petrel were taken as recently as 2009 in an NFMV-organised expedition. 
First at sea photos of the Fiji Petrel were taken as recently as 2009 in an NFMV-organised expedition.

Frozen chum blocks persist for up to one-and-a-half hours, creating a pungent and constant natural oil slick, which attracts petrels from some miles away. On the second day, the first Fiji Petrel appeared, approaching the chum slick from downwind, slowly zigzagging over the slick, and suddenly changing direction to drop onto a small floating morsel. “Seeing the Kacau ni Gau flying supremely at close range was a truly breath-stopping experience”, remarked Kolinio Moce.
The objective of the ‘chumming’ is firstly to see if the Fiji Petrel can be located at sea – now successfully accomplished, and then to see if it can be attracted in a ‘feeding frenzy’ such that it could be captured and radio transmitter attached. This method has been successfully used with another little known petrel, the New Zealand Storm Petrel. Hopefully then, the Fiji Petrel’s nesting site on Gau could be located. So far, work on land on Gau over the past 20 years has failed to locate the nesting site.

Fiji Petrel is classified as Critically Endangered, with its perilous status confirmed by this expedition. “Finding the location of the nesting sites is the principal objective of NatureFiji-MareqetiViti’s Fiji Petrel project because only with these located can we can assess what needs to be done to turn around the fortunes of this species. All the existing evidence, supported by the results of this year’s expedition, is that very few Fiji Petrels remain, and that immediate efforts to find the nest sites are needed, and prompt, effective protection introduced before it is too late. Probably only about 50 birds survive” explained Nunia Thomas, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti’s Conservation Coordinator.

“We are grateful to BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinction programme for funding the May chumming expedition. On Gau, in addition to searching for nesting burrows of the Fiji Petrel, we have also been working with communities to ensure that grounded Fiji Petrels – possibly young birds dazzled by lights, are cared for and then released. We are also training three community members how to monitor nesting Collared Petrels and how to remove rats and feral cats from around their colony. This is to prepare trained personnel on the island for the time when we do discover the Fiji Petrel’s nesting burrows. The BirdLife International Community Conservation Fund and the Disney Conservation Trust have assisted this work,” added Nunia Thomas. (5)

Further chumming expeditions and the use of highly trained dogs from New Zealand to ‘sniff’ out the petrel burrows is the next phase of NatureFiji-MareqetiViti’s work on Gau and is being funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. (6)

For further details contact:

Dick Watling.
Mobile 9923189
Email: [email protected]


1. The findings are published in a paper in the latest issue of Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club. First observations of Fiji Petrel Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi at sea: off Gau Island, Fiji, in May 2009 by Hadoram Shirihai, Tony Pym, Jörg Kretzschmar, Kolinio Moce Amania Taukei & Dick Watling

2. Fiji Petrel is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List because it is estimated that there is only a tiny population, which is confined to a very small

3. Until this expedition Fiji Petrel had been identified only on Gau itself, where the type specimen was collected in 1855. Thereafter the species went unrecorded for nearly 130 years until one was caught in 1984. Then, between 1984-2009, there were about 16 reports of “grounded” birds on Gau, some of which were unconfirmed.

4. NatureFiji-MareqetiViti is Fiji’s sole membership-based, local conservation organisation and is working with communities and partners on several of Fiji’s most critical conservation issues. These include the Fiji Petrel, the Fiji Flying Fox Pteralopex acrodonta and the Fiji Sago Palm Metroxylon vitiense.

5. BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions initiative is working to save the world’s threatened birds by finding companies and institutions to act as BirdLife Species Champions, funding conservation efforts working on the ground. For more information: BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions.The expedition was financed by a grant from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme and its official sponsor the British Birdwatching Fair.

6. Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund