Researchers tracked the birds as they flew over the Antarctic Ocean and were drawn towards fishing boats.
The study found that the albatross successfully “detected and localised fishing vessels over large oceanic sectors”.
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“Our results demonstrate the potential of using animals as ocean sentinels,” the researchers said.
The birds were “perfect candidates” for the experiment because they “fly great distances and are particularly attracted by fishing boats”, according to the France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), who were involved in the study published in the US journal PNAS.
Henri Weimerskirch, the lead author, told AFP: “They are like drones, only intelligent.”
Nearly 170 albatross were fitted with devices for six months in the “Ocean Sentinel” project conducted by a team from France and New Zealand, the CNRS said.
Researchers said that illegal fishing threatens the ocean’s natural ecosystems, estimating that over one third of fishing boats in international waters were undeclared.
The study concluded that technology can open up the potential to use “seabirds to patrol oceans” for conservation purposes.
CNRS said the birds were fitted with a device containing a GPS system to track their location and a radar detector to intercept signals from vessels.
The research centre said that the technology “could be adapted for other marine species, like sharks and sea turtles”.