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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The short-tailed albatross arrives at its colonial nesting sites in large numbers in mid October (5). Each pair returns to the same nest as in previous years, where they court using vocalisations and displays. The nests are lined with grass and a single, large egg is incubated by both sexes for 65 days, alternating shifts whilst the other member of the pair forages to feed them both (3). The chick hatches between January and February (5) and is guarded and fed regurgitated food from both parents (3). The chick fledges between May and June and reaches sexual maturity at four years. It will not nest until six years, by which time it will have established a life-long pair bond. Successful breeders will leave the breeding grounds in May and June, but failed breeders and non-breeders leave before the new chicks have hatched (5). Feeding mainly at night due to its diet of squid, the short-tailed albatross may also eat fish and crustaceans. It is often seen feeding behind fishing vessels, picking waste from the surface (5).
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Description

Named for its short, white tail with a black bar at the end, this seabird begins life with blackish brown feathers and pale pinkish-yellow legs. As it matures, the feathers turn white, leaving only black edges to the wings and a hint of dull orange on the crown and nape (2). The feet of adults are pale blue (3) and the bill is large and pink, gaining a blue tip with age (2).
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Distribution

Range Description

Phoebastria albatrus breeds on Torishima (Japan), and Minami-kojima (Senkaku Islands), that are claimed jointly by Japan, mainland China and Chinese Taipei. Historically there are believed to have been at least nine colonies south of Japan and in the East China Sea (Piatt et al. 2006). Its marine range covers most of the northern Pacific Ocean, but it occurs in highest densities in areas of upwelling along shelf waters of the Pacific Rim, particularly along the coasts of Japan, eastern Russia, the Aleutians and Alaska (Piatt et al. 2006, Suryan et al. 2007). During breeding (December - May) it is found in highest densities around Japan. Satellite tracking has indicated that during the post-breeding period, females spend more time offshore of Japan and Russia, while males and juveniles spend greater time around the Aleutian Islands, Bering Sea and off the coast of North America (Suryan et al. 2007). Juveniles have been shown to travel twice the distances per day and spend more time within continental shelf habitat than adult birds (Suryan et al. 2008). The species declined dramatically during the 19th and 20th centuries owing to exploitation for feathers, and was believed extinct in 1949, but was rediscovered in 1951. The current population is estimated, via direct counts and modelling based on productivity data, to be 2,364 individuals, with 1,922 birds on Torishima and 442 birds on Minami-kojima (G.R. Balogh in litt. 2008). In 1954, 25 birds (including at least six pairs) were present on Torishima. Given that there are now c.426 breeding pairs on Torishima (G.R. Balogh in litt. 2008), the species has undergone an enormous increase since its rediscovery and the onset of conservation efforts. In addition, in 2010, one nesting pair was observed on Kure Atoll (Hawaii, USA), but was probably female-female and unsuccessful, and one chick was produced on Midway Atoll (M. Naughton pers. comm. 2011). A tsunami which hit Midway Atoll in March 2011, did not impact on the single pair nesting on Eastern Island (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2008).

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Occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations, but breeds in a single state or province

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Non-breeding

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Transient

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Global Range: (<100 square km (less than about 40 square miles)) Nesting is restricted to two small island groups, roughly 1,500 kilometers apart: Torishima Island (Izu Islands) is approximately 580 kilometers south of Japan; and Minami-kojima (Senkaku Islands of the southwestern Ryukyu Islands) is about 270 kilometers northeast of Taiwan (NMFS 1989). On Midway Island, in the Hawaiian Islands, birds have been observed during the breeding season (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982) and for several years one bird attempted breeding with a Laysan albatross (Sanger 1978). Attempts have been made to encourage breeding there through decoys and recorded sounds, but this has not succeeded yet (H. Hasegawa, pers. comm., 2001). Historical range extended from the Bering Strait to California, and the species was common enough in both southern and northern latitudes to be found in the middens of coastal Native Americans (Friedman 1934, Yesner 1976).

When not on the nesting islands, short-tailed albatrosses are widespread in the temperate and subarctic North Pacific (Sanger 1978). Data from satellite-tracked individuals indicate that albatrosses range across much of the North Pacific from Torishima to the western and southern Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, and southward to California, often more proximate to islands and mainland coasts than to mid-ocean areas (Suryan et al. 2007). Historically short-tailed albatrosses were common year-round off the western coast of North America (Roberson 1980), ranging southward to approximately 10 degrees North latitude (King 1981). Archeological evidence indicates their presence from California to Alaska (Friedman 1934, Yesner 1976), as well as throughout the entire North Pacific to the coast of China, including the Japan Sea, the Okhotsk Sea, the Bering Sea. Bering Sea records include the Komandorskie Islands, Diomede Islands, and Norton Sound (AOU 1957, Palmer 1962). These albatrosses also were commonly sighted in the Gulf of Alaska (Turner 1886, Nelson 1887) and were apparently common, if not abundant, in areas of high biological productivity such as along the west coast of North America, the Bering Sea, and offshore from the Aleutians (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982).

HISTORICAL BREEDING: Hasegawa (1979) identified 9 historical breeding locations in the western North Pacific, including 1) Torishima Island in the Izu Islands, 2) Mukojima in the Bonin Islands, 3) Nishinoshima in the Bonin Islands, 4) Kita-daitojima of the Daito group, 5) Minami-daitojima of the Daito group, 6) Okino-daitojima of the Daito group, 7) Senakaku Retto, 8) Agincourt Island north of Taiwan, and 9) Byosho. According to King (1981) there also may have been breeding on 1) Kobisho of the Senkaku group in the southern Ryukyu Islands, 2) Yomeshima and Kitanoshima in the Bonin Islands, 3) Pescadores between Taiwan and mainland China, and 4) Iwo Jima in the western Volcanic Islands (Kazan-Retto).

SUPPOSED ALASKA BREEDING: Several early naturalists believed that short-taileds bred in the islands of the Aleutian Archipelago because high numbers of birds were seen nearshore during the summer months. They were reported by Turner (1886) as highly abundant near Cape Newenham and abundant near the Pribilof Islands by Elliot (1898). Reports also described them near St. Lawrence Island, north to the Bering Strait and south to the Barren Islands in Lower Cook Inlet (Bean, Turner, and Nelson, in Hasegawa and DeGange 1982). There also was reference to breeding colonies by local Aleuts and a high frequency of occurrence in middens; however, fledgling bones were never recorded. Breeding was never verified in the Aleutians, and former breeding in Alaska is thought to be highly unlikely.

Coded range extent refers to the nesting range. Torishima is approximately 6 square kilomeers and Minami-kojima is 0.4 square kilometers.

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Historic Range:
North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea_Canada, China, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Taiwan, U.S.A. (AK, CA, HI, OR, WA)

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Range

Breeds Torishima (Izu Islands); ranges at sea through n Pacific.

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Range

The short-tailed albatross breeds on Torishima and the Senkaku Islands, Japan. It previously also bred on several other Japanese islands, as well as islands off the coast of Taiwan. Its marine range covers much of the northern Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk. It has been recorded along the coasts of Japan, eastern Russia, South Korea, China, Alaska, and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, as well as down the west coast of the United States (2).
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Physical Description

Size

Length: 91 cm

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Diagnostic Description

Differs from Black-footed Albatross in having a bill that is pink instead of dark and large rather than small; blackfoots (and Laysan Albatrosses) also lack a white back (NGS 1983).

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour Phoebastria albatrus is a colonial, annually breeding species, with each breeding cycle lasting about 8 months. Birds begin to arrive at the main colony on Torishima Island in early October. A single egg is laid in late October to late November and incubation lasts 64 to 65 days. Hatching occurs in late December through January. Chicks begin to fledge in late May into June. There is little information on timing of breeding on Minami-kojima. First breeding sometimes occurs when birds are five years old, but more commonly when birds are aged six. It forages diurnally and potentially nocturnally, either singly or in groups primarily taking prey by surface-seizing (ACAP 2009). During the breeding season, individuals nesting off Japan forage over the continental shelf (Kiyota and Minami 2008). Habitat Breeding Historically, it preferred level, open, areas adjacent to tall clumps of the grass Miscanthus sinensis for nesting. Diet It feeds mainly on squid, but also takes shrimp, fish, flying fish eggs and other crustaceans (ACAP 2009). It has been recorded following ships to feed on scraps and fish offal.


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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Habitat Type: Marine

Comments: This is a pelagic bird that often occurs in regions of high marine productivity. It nests on the ground on small oceanic islands; on volcanic ash slopes with sparse vegetation, formerly on level open areas adjacent to tall clumps of the grass Miscanthus sinensis (i.e., on Torishima, where also present was the composite Chrysanthemum pacificum and the nettle Boehmeria biloba, which stabilized the soil). Pairs tend to nest in the same site in successive nesting attempts. See Hasegawa and DeGange (1982) for a brief description of Torishima.

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breeding on Rorishima
  • UNESCO-IOC Register of Marine Organisms
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Depth range based on 1461 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 1340 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): 1.037 - 26.522
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.060 - 20.927
  Salinity (PPS): 30.381 - 35.294
  Oxygen (ml/l): 4.694 - 8.136
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.068 - 1.856
  Silicate (umol/l): 1.436 - 39.352

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): 1.037 - 26.522

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.060 - 20.927

Salinity (PPS): 30.381 - 35.294

Oxygen (ml/l): 4.694 - 8.136

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.068 - 1.856

Silicate (umol/l): 1.436 - 39.352
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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A pelagic species for most of the year, the short-tailed albatross is found on bare ground surrounded by cliffs at the nesting grounds. It previously nested in open areas (5).
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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Arrival at Torishima begins in early October, increasing until breeding begins in late October (Hasegawa and DeGrange 1982). Failed breeders and nonbreeders depart in winter and spring; successful breeders and fledglings depart from late May to June (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982).

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: This albatross feeds at the water surface on squid, crustaceans, and various fishes; sometimes it follows ships and feeds on scraps and offal. Chicks are fed a mixture of stomach oil and partially digested, regurgitated food; nestlings are fed squid, flying fishes, large crustaceans, and similar foods (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982).

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 1 - 5

Comments: There are two known breeding occurrences (Torishima and Minami-kojima); 80-85 percent of the breeding birds nest on Torishima (USFWS 2005). Researchers have encouraged the formation of a new colony on Torishima through the use of decoys and recorded sounds, but during the period 1995-2005 only 11 chicks fledged (USFWS 2005). More recently, however, the colony has exhibited an increasing trend in number of nesting pairs and fledged chicks.

Data from recent satellite tracking studies (e.g., Suryan et al. 2007) may eventually allow delineation of foraging area occurrences but, over the long term, foraging areas might turn out to be too large and dynamic (reflecting changes in food availability) to designate as distinct occurrences.

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Global Abundance

250 - 2500 individuals

Comments: The global population in 2005 was estimated at about 513 pairs (428 from Torishima and 85 from the Senkakus), or 2,052 individual birds (1,712 from Torishima and 340 from Minami-kojima in the Senkakus) (USFWS 2005).

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General Ecology

Little definite information is available on sources of mortality.

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Comments: Apparently often feeds nocturnally when squid are at the surface.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Observations: Not much is known about the longevity of these animals, though they have been reported to live up to 17.3 years (Clapp et al. 1982). Considering the longevity of similar species, maximum longevity could be significantly underestimated.
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Reproduction

Breeding begins in late October. Egg laying occurs from late October through early November. Clutch size is 1. Both sexes incubate, in turns lasting from a few days to a few weeks. Total incubation period is 64-65 days. Hatching occurs from late December through early January; hatching success generally 33-75%. Nestling period lasts usually 5 months or more. Of the hatchlings, fledging success usually is over 90%. Pair-bond is life-long. Most first breed at 8-9 years old, sometimes at 5-7 years. After several years at sea, immatures annually visit the breeding colony for several years before reaching sexual maturity. [Source: Hasegawa and DeGrange 1982]

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Phoebastria albatrus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
D2

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Taylor, J. & Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Balogh, G., Chan, S., Hasegawa, H., Peet, N., Rivera, K. & Suryan, R.

Justification
This species is listed as Vulnerable because, although conservation efforts have resulted in a steady population increase, it still has a very small breeding range, limited to Torishima and Minami-kojima (Senkaku Islands), rendering it susceptible to stochastic events and human impacts.

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N1N - Critically Imperiled

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G1 - Critically Imperiled

Reasons: Ranges widely in the North Pacific, but hunted to near-extinction in early 1900s. Currently there are only two known breeding colonies: one on Torishima Island in the Izu Shoto Island group (plus a possible new colony on Torishima) and the other on Minami-kojima Island in the Senkaku Retto, southwestern Ryukyu Islands. Population is increasing, but still highly vulnerable because of low numbers and low reproductive potential.

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable

Other Considerations: The history of the Short-tailed Albatross's contact with people is important to understanding its decline and recovery. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the worldwide millinery trade preferred albatross feathers which resulted in the killing of millions of birds (Rice and Kenyon 1962). Because the short-tailed albatross was particularly sought after for pillow and quilting "swansdown" (Austin 1949), an estimated 5 million birds were eventually harvested (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982). Their eggs also were collected, which hastened the population decline through to the 1940s.

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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region:   Alaska Region (Region 7) 
Where Listed: Entire


Population detail:

Population location: Entire
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Phoebastria albatrus, see its USFWS Species Profile

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Status

The short-tailed albatross is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (4). It is also listed as Endangered by both the United States and Japan (3).
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Population

Population
At the end of the 2006-2007 breeding season, the global population was estimated to be 2,364 individuals, with 1,922 birds on Torishima and 442 birds on Minami-kojima (Senkaku Islands). This estimate is based on: direct observation of breeding pairs on Torishima; an assumption on numbers of non-breeding birds; an estimate for the Minami-kojima population that is based upon a 2002 estimate and an assumption of population growth rate (which, together, puts the Minami-kojima population at about 15% of the global population [G.R. Balogh in litt. 2008]). More recently, Brazil (2009) estimates the population in Japan at c.100-10,000 breeding pairs and c.50-1,000 individuals on migration. The population is taken here as likely to number 2,200-2,500 individuals based on these estimates, roughly equating to 1,500-1,700 mature individuals.

Population Trend
Increasing
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Global Short Term Trend: Increase of 10 to >25%

Comments: Between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, the number of eggs laid and young fledged roughly doubled (USFWS 2005).

Global Long Term Trend: Decline of >90%

Comments: Circumstantial evidence from archaeological studies of middens suggests easy, nearshore access by hunters in kayaks (Nelson 1987) to an abundant supply of short-tailed albatrosses from California north to St. Lawrence Island (Friedman 1934, Yesner 1976, Murie 1959). In fact, the species was once regarded as the most common albatross ranging over the U.S. continental shelf (Sanger 1978). Historical records indicate that there were over 100,000 individuals at the Torishima Island colony at the turn of the century (Hattori 1889, in Austin 1949). Between 1885 and 1903, about 5 million were killed on Torishima Island alone, and by 1933 the feather industry had reduced those numbers to less than 50 (Tickell 1975). By 1949 the species was thought to be extinct. In 1950, however, breeding was again reported on Torishima, and in 1954 there were at least 6 breeding pairs (USFWS 2000). Since 1950, there has been an increasing trend in the breeding population at Torishima Island. There are no valid historical estimates of the other estimated 9 breeding populations.

In 1971, 12 adults were discovered on Minami-kojima in the Senkaku Islands, one of the former breeding sites (Hasegawa 1984); the breeding population there is now approximately 85 pairs, and the number of feldged young increased from 7 in 1987-1988 to 33 in 2001-2002 (USFWS 2005).

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Threats

Major Threats
Its historical decline was caused by exploitation. Today, the key threats are the instability of soil on its main breeding site (Torishima), the threat of mortality and habitat loss from the active volcano on Torishima, and mortality caused by fisheries. Torishima is also vulnerable to other natural disasters, such as typhoons. Introduced predators are a potential threat at colonies. Environmental contaminants at sea (oil based compounds) may also be a threat (G.R. Balogh in litt. 2008). Threats at sea (fisheries, oil pollution) are exacerbated by the fact that birds concentrate into predictable hotspots (Piatt et al. 2006). Modelling work has showed that even a small increase in low level chronic mortality (such as fisheries bycatch) has more of an impact on population growth rates than stochastic and theoretically catastrophic events, such as volcanic eruptions (Finkelstein et al. 2010). Phoebastria albatrus has the greatest potential overlap with fisheries that occur in the shallower waters along continental shelf break and slope regions, e.g., sablefish and Pacific halibut longline fisheries off the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia. Although, overlap between the distribution of birds and fishery effort does not mean that interactions between birds and boats necessarily occur, P. albatrus are known to have been killed in U.S. and Russian longline fisheries for Pacific cod and Pacific halibut. In addition, birds on Torishima have been observed with hooks in their mouths of the style used in Japanese fisheries near the island (ACAP 2009).

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Degree of Threat: Very high - medium

Comments: The primary existing threat to recovery is the possibility of an eruption of Torishima, the main breeding site (USFWS 2005). A minor eruption occurred there in August of 2002, after the end of the breeding season. Other possible threats include incidental catch in commercial fisheries, ingestion of plastics, contamination by oil and other pollutants, the potential for competition with non-native species (nest-site competition with black-footed albatross), and adverse effects related to global climate change (USFWS 2005).

HUNTING: The original decline of this species from abundance to near-extinction was primarily the result of overhunting in the late 1800s and early 1900s; albatrosses were killed for their feathers and their bodies processed into fertilizer and fat; the eggs were also collected for food (Austin 1949, cited in USFWS 2000; Rice and Kenyon 1962). Because this species was particularly sought after for pillow and quilting "swansdown" (Austin 1949), an estimated 5 million birds were eventually harvested (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982). These threats are no longer hindering the species' recovery.

NATURAL IMPACTS: Loss of habitat is a major threat to recovery on Torishima Island. Major volcanic eruptions took place there in 1902 and 1939, destroying much of the original breeding colony sites. The volcano is still active.

EXOTIC SPECIES: Cats and the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) have become established on Torishima Island. There is no evidence of predation on birds or eggs; the impacts are unknown, but thought to be minor at present (Hasegawa, pers. comm. 2001).

COMMERCIAL FISHING: The commercial fishing industry working in the North Pacific could impact the short-tailed population. "There is little question that there will be adverse impacts...particularly in Alaska" (NMFS 1989). The effects were categorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service as the following: 1) direct injury or mortality from gear, such as gillnets and long-line hooks, 2) complications associated with discarded ship debris, such as plastic ingestion or entanglement, 3) competition for certain prey species, such as squid, squid or age/size classes of fish, and 4) damage or injury related to oil contamination, such as a spill or leak. Undoubtedly, most taking of short-tailed's goes unrecognized or unreported; however, there were two documented deaths in the 1980s, one from entanglement in a gillnet and one from hooking and drowning. This knowledge, combined with known distribution and surface feeding habits, has led the National Marine Fisheries Service to the conclusion that the greatest potential threat by fisheries is from driftnetting and longlining and, to a lesser degree, trawling and trolling. The Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese squid and large-mesh fisheries have, in the past, been responsible for 100,000s of seabird deaths per year, with 17,548 Laysan and 4,426 Black-footed Albatross taken in 1990 (Gould, in prep). Recent satellite tracking revealed significant overlap between short-tailed albatross locations and commercial fishing areas for sablefish, walleye pollack, and Pacific cod in Alaskan waters (Suryan et al. 2007). Use of seabird deterrent devices in the Alaskan longline fishery probably has reduced albatross mortality, and use of these devices in other areas should benefit albatrosses (Suryan et al. 2007).

PLASTIC POLLUTION: The commercial fishing industry is a large contributer to plastic pollution. In Alaska waters alone an excess of 1600 tons of fishing gears is lost annually (Merrill 1980). Title 2 of Public Law 100-220 of the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act of 1987 was designed to curb this pollution source. Meanwhile, plastic ingestion by short-tailed's has been documented by Hasegawa in 7 out of 11 chicks examined (McDermond, pers. comm.) on Torishima Island. It is important to note that Laysan chicks reported with higher volumes of ingested plastics show lower fledgling weights than those with lower volumes of ingested plastic and that reduction in ingested food volumes can contribute to chick dehydration (Sievert and Sileo, in McDermond 1991, in press). Day (1985) identified albatrosses, in general, as exhibiting a high frequency of plastic ingestion. Fry et al. (1987) stated that "the endangered Short-tailed Albatross must also be considered at high risk because much of its distribution overlaps with Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses and its foraging range is near Japan and across the Pacific in areas of high density of plastic debris." The commercial fishing industry may target certain squid, fish, or shrimp species, which also are preyed upon by the short-tailed albatross.

COMPETITION: The degree of competition for prey species is unknown. The squid net fishery in the North Pacific was at one time dominated by the Japanese who have withdrawn their effort under pressure from the United Nations. Prior to November 1992, the Japanese fished 530 boats, the Taiwanese fished 90 boats, and the Koreans fished 130 boats; each boat fishing approximately 50 kilometers of net per night (Robert Day, February 1993, pers. comm.). Walleye pollack and sable fisheries, which have juvenile stage that occur in surface waters, may also compete with the short-tailed prey base (NMFS 1981). Expansion of nesting black-footed albatrosses into the nesting area on Torishima is a possible threat (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982).

OIL POLLUTION: Oil pollution could pose a threat to short-tailed albatross by causing physiological problems from petroleum toxicity and by interferring with its ability to thermoregulate. From 1980 to 1989, 410 commercial fishing boats became disabled or sank in Alaska waters (Pettin 1989), and many spilled hundreds or thousands of gallons of petroleum products into the ocean (NMFS 1989). Another related threat to the short-tailed breeding populations may be oil development in the vicinity of the Senkaku Islands (Hasegawa 1982), a venture that is still being considered at present (H. Hasegawa, pers. comm. 2001). This industrial development would introduce the risk of local marine contamination or wide-area pollution due to blow-outs, spills, and leaks related to oil extraction, transfer, and transportation (Sherburne 1984).

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In Japan the short-tailed albatross is known as 'Ahodori' meaning 'fool-bird', as they would remain at their nest sites as humans walked through the breeding grounds killing them for their feathers (6). The behaviour of the Japanese feather collectors lead to the dramatic decline of this species during the 19th and 20th Centuries, culminating in its putative extinction in 1949. Fortunately, the short-tailed albatross was rediscovered in 1951, after feather-collecting had ceased due to lack of birds. Today, the enormous threat posed to many species of seabird is present for this species also – mortality caused by fishing industry practices, such as longlining. Compounding this threat is the instability of soil at the breeding sites, brought about by deforestation. Some authorities also believe that the species is now most vulnerable to natural disasters, particularly volcanic eruptions (2). The majority of the population breeds at one site (2), where the entire human population of 125 people was lost at once by an eruption in 1902 (6).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
It is legally protected in Japan, Canada and the USA. A draft recovery plan has been developed (USFWS 2005). Mitigation measures have been established in the Alaska demersal longline fishery and in the Hawaii-based pelagic longline fishery (NOAA 2008). Streamer lines (both heavy weight lines for large boats and lightweight lines for smaller vessels) have been designed to keep birds from longline hooks as they are set, and these are being distributed free to the Alaskan longline fleet (USFWS 2005), though they are not deployed in near-shore waters. In 2006, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission passed a measure which requires large tuna and swordfish longline vessels (>24m long) to use a combination of two seabird bycatch mitigation measures when fishing north of 23 degrees North. Torishima has been established as a National Wildlife Protection Area. In 1981-1982, native plants were transplanted into the Torishima nesting colony in order to stabilise the nesting habitat and the nest structures. This has enhanced breeding success, with over 60% of eggs now resulting in fledged young. Decoys have been used to attract birds to nest at another site on Torishima since 1993 and the first pair started breeding at this new site in November 1995. The number of chicks fledged from this new colony has increased from one chick in 2004; four chicks in 2005; 13 chicks in 2006; 16 chicks in 2007. In October-November 2007, 35 eggs were laid at this new site (Sato 2009). In 2007, the Japanese government approved a project to translocate chicks from Torishima to Mukojima, 300 km away. All ten chicks of the first translocations in March 2008 fledged (Jacobs 2009). If successful, this project will translocate at least ten chicks per year for five years.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue to promote measures designed to protect this species from becoming hooked or entangled by commercial fishing gear. Re-establish birds within historic range as insurance against natural disasters on primary breeding colony. Promote conservation measures for the Minami-kojima population. Continue research into the at-sea distribution and marine habitat use through satellite telemetry studies. Continue land-based management and population monitoring.

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Management Requirements: Management recommendations include: 1) continued planting of grasses and use of other soil stabilization techniques at the existing Torishima breeding colony, 2) manipulation of the Torishima site to minimize potential intrusion of the expanding black-footed albatross colony into the limited short-tailed breeding site, 3) reintroduction of the short-tailed to other historical sites, which will, in the long-term, provide greater guarantees for survival at the genetic and population levels, and 4) establishment of a cat and rat extermination program on Torishima Island. Tickell (1975) recommended that any grass transplanting effort should be accompanied by controlled use of fertilizer, suggesting that there is a relationship not only between the presence of grass and nesting but that albatross excreta may contribute favorably to the maintenance of the grasses.

Biological Research Needs: Since 1974, there has been an active monitoring program on Torishima Island. The principal investigator, Hiroshi Hasegawa (1977), suggested several research projects, including 1) study of the relationship between vegetation and nesting success, 2) study competition between black-footed and short-tailed albatross for nesting space, and 3) the study impacts of exotic rat and cat species. Also, continued support is needed for work at Torishima and Minai-kojima colonies into age structure, annual survival, reproductive success, food habits, etc. Of particular long-term interest is the impacts of competition with fishing industries on their potential population recovery.

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Global Protection: None. No occurrences appropriately protected and managed

Comments: In 1933, the Japanese Government designated Torishima Island off limits to feather hunting and, in 1965, further declared the island a National Monument, thereby protecting all its flora and fauna (King 1981). Landing on the island is by permit only (H. Hasegawa, pers. comm., 2001). However, the extensive marine foraging habitat of this species is not protected. The second colony in the Senkaku Islands is not protected and is the subject of a territorial dispute between Japan, Taiwan, and the People's Republic of China.

Needs: The National Marine Fisheries Service recommended the following measures to minimize injury or death to short-tailed albatross as a result of the commercial fishing industry: 1) observer awareness education and training for increased documentation of short-taileds on the fishing grounds, 2) minimizing contact with fishing gear, and 3) imposing strict limitation of solid and hazardous waste by fishing boats in compliance with the Marine Plastic Pollution and Control Act of 1987 and the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution by Ships of 1973 and 1978. Unqualified protection is important to the breeding colony site at Minami-kojima Islands in order to site secure a second site that is not vulnerable to the natural volcanic disturbances that will always threaten Torishima Island.

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Conservation

A feather-collection ban was imposed in 1906, but it was not effective. Collection only began to dwindle when numbers of the short-tailed albatross dropped so low in the 1930s that it was no longer economically worth hunting (6). It is now legally protected in both Japan and the United States, and the island of Toroshima has been established as a National Wildlife Protection Area. Toroshima has also benefited from the transfer of native plants onto the island to enhance the nesting sites. Decoys were used to attract short-tailed albatrosses to a new site on Toroshima, and by 2003, six chicks had fledged from this site. Crucially, measures to prevent entanglement in fishing gear and to mitigate longline fishing need to be introduced if this albatross, and others, are to survive (2).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Comments: Formerly heavily exploited for feathers, oil, and fertilizer. Formerly a common element in the diet of natives along the Pacific coast of North America (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982).

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Risks

Stewardship Overview: USFWS (2005) listed the following important recovery actions: continue to monitor population and manage habitat on Torishima; monitor Senkaku populatio; conduct telemetry studies; establish one or more breeding colonies on nonvolcanic islands; continue research on fisheries operations and mitigation measures; conduct outreach and international negotiations. See USFWS (2005) for further recommendations.

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Wikipedia

Short-tailed albatross

The short-tailed albatross or Steller's albatross (Phoebastria albatrus) is a large rare seabird from the North Pacific. Although related to the other North Pacific albatrosses, it also exhibits behavioural and morphological links to the albatrosses of the Southern Ocean. It was described by the German naturalist Peter Simon Pallas from skins collected by the Georg Wilhelm Steller (after whom its other common name is derived). Once common, it was brought to the edge of extinction by the trade in feathers, but with protection has recently made a recovery.

Taxonomy[edit]

Short-tailed albatrosses are a type of albatross that belong to the Diomedeidae family, order Procellariiformes, along with shearwaters, fulmars, storm petrels, and diving petrels. They share certain identifying features. First, they have nasal passages that attach to the upper bill called naricorns. Although the nostrils on the albatross are on the sides of the bill. The bills of Procellariiformes are also unique in that they are split into between seven and nine horny plates. Finally, they produce a stomach oil made up of wax esters and triglycerides that is stored in the proventriculus. This is used against predators as well as an energy rich food source for chicks and for the adults during their long flights.[4] They also have a salt gland which is situated above the nasal passage helping desalinate their bodies, as an adaptation to the high amount of ocean water they imbibe. It excretes a high saline solution from their nose.[5] Going back in time, fossils of albatrosses from the mid-Pleistocene in Bermuda and North Carolina are considered to be closest to the short-tailed albatross.[citation needed]

Description[edit]

The short-tailed albatross is a medium sized albatross, with a wingspan of 215–230 cm (85–91 in),[6] a length of 84–94 cm (33–37 in)[7][8] and a body weight that can be 4.3–8.5 kg (9.5–18.7 lb). Among standard measurements, the bill is 12.7–15.2 cm (5.0–6.0 in) long, the tail is 14–15.2 cm (5.5–6.0 in) long, the tarsus around 10 cm (3.9 in) and the wing chord 51 cm (20 in).[9] Its plumage as an adult is overall white with black flight feathers, some coverts, as well as a black terminal bar on its tail. It has a yellow-stained nape and crown. Its bill is large and pink; however, older birds will gain a blue tip. The juveniles are an all-over brown colour, and they will whiten as they mature,[10] in about 10 to 20 years.[11][12] It can be distinguished from the other two species of albatross in its range, the Laysan albatross and the black-footed albatross by its larger size and its pink bill (with a bluish tip), as well as details of its plumage. Contrary to its name its tail is no shorter than that of the Laysan or black-footed, and is actually longer than that of the other member of the genus Phoebastria, the waved albatross.

Range and habitat[edit]

A chick just before it left the Hawaiian archipelago

Short-tailed albatrosses now nest on four islands, with the majority of birds nesting on Torishima, and almost all of the rest on Minami-kojima in the Senkaku Islands. A female-female pair began nesting on Kure in the late 2000s, but to date they have not produced a viable egg. A chick hatched on 14 January 2011 on Midway. Both Midway and Kure are in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.[13] In 2012 a pair began incubating an egg on Muko-jima, in the Bonin Islands, Japan.[14] During non-breeding season they range across the North Pacific, with the males and juveniles gathering in the Bering Sea, and the females feeding off the coast of Japan and eastern Russia.[10] They can also be found as far east as California. In fact, the short-tailed albatross is seen on a number of the United States' state endangered species lists including Washington.[15]

The species has been extirpated as a breeder from Kita-no-shima, Enewetak Atoll, Kobishi, and the Bonin Islands (Nishino Shima, Yomejima, and (until recently) Mukojima).[3]

Behaviour[edit]

Feeding[edit]

The short-tailed albatross feeds mainly on squid, but will follow ships for their discarded offal.[10]

Reproduction[edit]

This albatross historically preferred to nest on large open areas near stands of the grass, Miscanthus sinensis.[10]

Conservation[edit]

Breeding population and trends[10]
Breeding locationBreeding pairsTrend
Torishima1,922 adultsup from 25 since 1954
Minami-kojima442Unknown
Total2,36479% increase over 76 years
One of several chicks translocated to Muko-jima Island, Japan

The IUCN classifies this species as vulnerable,[1] with an occurrence range of 34,800,000 km2 (13,400,000 sq mi) and a breeding range of 9 km2 (3.5 sq mi).

The short-tailed albatross came perilously close to extinction. They were hunted on an almost industrial scale for their feathers in the later half of the 19th century, with some estimates claiming upward of 10 million birds hunted. By the 1930s the only population left was on Torishima, between 1927 and until 1933 hunting continued when the Japanese government declared the ban of hunting to save the species, after which the albatrosses stopped breeding on the island. At this point the species was assumed to be extinct and research became impossible with the outbreak of World War II. On 1949 an American researcher arriving on this island declared the species to be extinct, but an estimated 50 individuals, most likely juveniles, survived at sea (all albatross species take a long time to reach sexual maturity and will not return to their natal colony for many years). After the return of the birds they were more carefully protected, and the first egg was laid by the returning birds in 1954. Varieties of albatross decoys were placed around on the island after it was discovered that like other albatross species, this species also were enticed to breed if placed in a group.[citation needed]

Today, longline fisheries, and volcanic eruptions on Torishima are the largest threats; however, introduced predators, environmental contaminants, soil instability, and extreme weather are also threats.

There are many measures underway to protect this species. Japan, Canada, and the United States list this bird as a protected species. Torishima is a National Wildlife Protection Area, and native plant species are being transplanted to assist in nesting. Also, most commercial longline fisheries use bycatch mitigation devices.[10]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2012). "Phoebastria albatrus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Brands, S. (2008)
  3. ^ a b American Ornithologists' Union
  4. ^ Double, M. C. (2003)
  5. ^ Ehrlich, Paul R. (1988)
  6. ^ Dunn, J. L. & Alderfer, J. (2006)
  7. ^ http://www.arkive.org/species/GES/birds/Phoebastria_albatrus/more_info.html?section=factsAndStatus
  8. ^ http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/CW69-14-362-2004E.pdf
  9. ^ to North American Species
  10. ^ a b c d e f BirdLife International (2008)
  11. ^ Sibley, D. A. (2000)
  12. ^ Floyd, T. (2008)
  13. ^ Associated Press. "Nest of endangered albatross found in Hawaii.". Retrieved 8 December 2010. 
  14. ^ Yamashina Institute for Ornithology. "Prospect for revival of albatross" (in Japanese). Retrieved 5 December 2012. 
  15. ^ "Westport Seabirds Pelagic Trips - 2001 Trip Results". Retrieved 6 March 2010. 

References[edit]

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: This species formerly was included in the genus Diomedea; AOU (1997) adopted its inclusion in the genus Phoebastria.

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