Image: An adult Beck's petrel
Hadoram Shirihai  /  AFP - Getty Images file
An adult Beck's petrel photographed off the north-east coast of Papua New Guinea in August 2007. The Beck's petrel had been not seen for almost 80 years.
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updated 3/7/2008 6:01:38 PM ET 2008-03-07T23:01:38

A bird species not seen for 80 years has been rediscovered near Papua New Guinea, experts said Friday. The Beck's petrel, long thought to be extinct, was photographed last summer by an Israeli ornithologist in the Bismarck Archipelago, a group of islands northeast of New Guinea.

Hadoram Shirihai, who was leading an expedition to find the bird, photographed more than 30 Beck's petrels. Shirihai's photographs and his report were published in "The Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club" on Friday.

Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and BirdLife International — a Cambridge conservation group — both said on Friday that their committees of experts had reviewed Shirihai's evidence and agreed he had found a Beck's petrel.

"I don't think there's much doubt about it," said BirdLife International spokesman Nick Askew.

The pictures are the first hard evidence of the Beck's petrel's existence since unconfirmed sightings of the bird were reported in Australia two years ago.

Rarely seen creaturesBeck's petrels are seabirds related to albatrosses and shearwaters. They are dark brown with pale bellies and tube-like noses. Upon first glance they look similar to the Tahitian petrel, one of 66 different petrel species, but Beck's are smaller and have more narrow wings than the Tahitians.

The last known specimen of the Beck's petrel before its rediscovery was collected in 1929 and the species is currently categorized as critically endangered by BirdLife International.

Shirihai compared a dead petrel he brought back with the data collected by Rollo Beck in the late 1920s to verify his was a genuine Beck's petrel.

The ornithologist has previously helped discover several new species in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said. He is one of the very few people to have visited almost every sub-Antarctic island and the breeding grounds of all forms of albatrosses, the society said.

Similar discoveries have touched off controversy in the past.

In 2004, ornithologists in the United States took grainy videos of an ivory-billed woodpecker, a magnificent bird thought extinct for decades. After the 2005 announcement, other experts said the sighting in an Arkansas swamp seemed to be a more common woodpecker. Three years later the debate still goes on.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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