The ‘rediscovery’ of the extinct New Zealand storm-petrel


On 25th January 2003 a possible sighting of the supposedly extinct New Zealand storm-petrel, NZSP, Oceanites maorianus, was made by Brent Stephenson, Sav Saville, and several other birders, during a pelagic out of Whitianga, New Zealand (full information on the initial sighting and the subsequent debate can be found here). The above photo, and several others, were taken of the bird and subsequently caused a great stir amongst the birding and scientific community within New Zealand and elsewhere. Could the supposedly extinct NZSP, known only from three specimens, not even adequately described, and having not been seen since the collection of the last specimen over 150 years ago, still be alive!!??

Many thought not, stating they thought the photos showed nothing other than a Black-bellied Storm-petrel – BBSP, Fregetta tropica, or White-bellied Storm-petrel – WBSP, Fregetta grallaria. The fact that there wasn’t even a concensus between these two species, and a nagging doubt that it just didn’t fit either of these spurred us on to get to the bottom of it all. Several prominent seabird biologists and birders suggested that we were on to something, and thanks must go to Ian Southey, Bill Bourne, and Hadoram Shirihai for their support early on.

New Zealand has already witnessed the ‘rediscovery’ of at least two supposedly extinct species, the Takahe and the Taiko, so perhaps this wasn’t such a bizarre thought. Well it certainly wasn’t!! On 17 November 2003 Bob Flood and Bryan Thomas chartered a boat out of Auckland and chummed at a location just north of Little Barrier Island. To cut a long story short – see the full story here – they observed, photographed, and videod 10 -20 birds identical to that which we had seen on 25 January. An article by Bob Flood has just been published in the December 2003 issue of ‘Birding World’, along with superb photos by Bryan Thomas, and effectively this confirms the existence of this supposedly extinct species.

Bob Flood would like the following erratum to be noted –

“Bob Flood’s article on the New Zealand Storm-petrel was published in Birding World on December 10th. Bob has noticed that the caption to Plates 6 & 7 is incorrect. The caption should read, ‘Black-bellied Storm-petrel Fregetta tropica c.40 kms east of Southport, Queensland, Australia, November 15, 2003 (Bryan Thomas …’. Bringing this error to the attention of interested parties will prevent confusion.”

Click here to see information with text by Bob Flood, including a full description, and photos by Bryan Thomas. We are very grateful to them for kindly making this available to us!

Subsequent trips into the Hauraki Gulf have seen these birds, and on 18 January 2004, a group led by Brent, with TV3 onboard, found, photographed and obtained video footage of New Zealand storm-petrel. This ‘exclusive’ formed the lead story during TV3’s News on 19 January 2004. Click here to see more information on the day, and photos of some of the birds seen.

The above photograph is copyrighted. If you would like to use it, then please contact me first.