Justification of Red List Category
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.
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.
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.
Phoebastria albatrus breeds on Torishima (Japan), and Minami-kojima (Senkaku Islands), that are claimed jointly by Japan and China. 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).
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.
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).
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.
89 cm. Medium-sized albatross. Adult has white head and body and golden cast to crown and nape. White tail with black terminal bar. White upperwing with black flight feathers and some coverts. White underwing with black margins, some grey-brown axillaries and coverts. Juvenile is blackish-brown with flesh-coloured legs. Immatures progressively whiten with age. All ages, large pink bill, bluer at tip with age. Similar spp. Disproportionately large pink bill distinguishes it from other North Pacific albatrosses.
Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Small, C., Sullivan, B., Symes, A., Anderson, O. & Ashpole, J
Balogh, G., Chan, S., Hasegawa, H., Peet, N., Rivera, K. & Suryan, R.
BirdLife International (2017) Species factsheet: Phoebastria albatrus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/03/2017. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2017) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/03/2017.