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 2013-2014 breeding season, the global population was estimated to be 4,200 individuals, with 3,540 birds on Torishima, 650 birds on the two islands in the East China Sea and 10 birds on Ogasawara Islands. Eda et al. (2012) showed that two populations of Phoebastria albatrus existed about 1,000 years ago and suggested that descendants of each population have segregated breeding colonies on Torishima and on the two islands in the East China Sea. The sequence divergence between the two clades is greater than between other Diomedeidae sister species (Eda and Higuchi 2012). The trend of assortative mating was indicated among birds from the Torishima and the two islands in the East China Sea (Eda et al. 2016).
In 1954, 25 birds (including at least six pairs) were present on Torishima. Given that there are now 609 breeding pairs on Torishima (H. Hasegawa in litt. 2014), the species has undergone an enormous increase since its rediscovery and the onset of conservation efforts.
Phoebastria albatrus breeds on Torishima in the western Pacific and Minami-kojima and Kita-kojima in the East China Sea in Japan. 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 (to U.S.A.) (Piatt et al. 2006, Suryan et al. 2007). The species has also been encountered as far north as the Chukchi Sea (Day et al. 2013). 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 off 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 it was rediscovered in 1951. The current population is estimated, via direct counts and modelling based on productivity data, to be 4,200 individuals, with 3,540 birds on Torishima, 650 birds on 2 islands in the East China Sea and 10 birds in Ogasawara Islands (Japan) (H. Hasegawa in litt. 2014, Deguchi et al. 2017). In 1954, 25 birds (including at least six pairs) were present on Torishima. Given that there are now 650 breeding pairs on Torishima (H. Hasegawa in litt. 2014), the species has undergone an enormous increase since its rediscovery and the onset of conservation efforts. In Ogasawara Islands, a historic breeding site, one nesting pair has been observed on Mukojima in 2013 and one chick was produced in 2016 (Deguchi et al. 2017). Another pair was observed on Nakoudojima in 2014 and 2015 and one chick was produced in 2014 (Deguchi et al. 2017). In 2016, one additional unidentified pair produced a chick on Yomejima. In addition, in 2010, one nesting pair was observed on Kure Atoll (Hawaii), but was probably two females and thus, unsuccessful, and one chick was produced on Midway Atoll (M. Naughton pers. comm. 2011).
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 is routinely attracted to fishing vessels, where it feeds on discards, fish offal and regrettably also occasionally on baited hooks.
Historical declines were driven by exploitation, the species being targeted primarily for its feathers, but also eggs and oil (ACAP 2009). Today, the main threat is posed by commercial fisheries. The species’ distribution overlaps with fisheries that occur in the shallower waters along continental shelf break and slope regions, e.g., Sablefish Anoplopoma fimbria and Pacific Halibut Hippoglossus stenolepis longline fisheries off the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia (Guy et al. 2013). The species is known to be killed in U.S. and Russian longline fisheries for Pacific Cod Gadus microcephalus and halibut. Since 1983, a total of 15 birds have been reported killed by fishing gear (USFWS 2012), but it is widely considered that the actual mortality from bycatch is considerably higher (USFWS 2008, COSEWIC 2013). Although there have been no reports of this species being taken in demersal longline fisheries in British Columbia, it has been suggested that one to two birds could be taken each year (COSEWIC 2013). Birds on Torishima have been observed with swallowed hooks that can be traced back to the Japanese fisheries that operate near the island (ACAP 2009). Other threats include mortality and habitat loss from the active volcano on Torishima, typhoons and potential oil spills (G.R. Balogh in litt. 2008). Models have shown that even small increases in chronic mortality rates, such as those resulting from bycatch, would have a greater impact on population trend than stochastic and theoretically catastrophic events, such as volcanic eruptions (Finkelstein et al. 2010).
Conservation Actions Underway In 2001 and 2007, respectively, the USA and Canada released National Plans of Action to reduce the bycatch of seabirds in longline fisheries (NMFS 2001, DFO 2007). In 2002, the use of tori (streamer) lines became a mandatory condition of licence in commercial halibut, sablefish, and rockfish Sebastes spp. longline fisheries on Canada’s west coast (DFO 2007). In 2003, the Committee on the Conservation of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed Phoebastria albatrus as Threatened in Canada (COSEWIC 2003); and in 2005, the species was added to Schedule 1 of Canada’s Species at Risk Act, as Threatened (EC 2008). In 2008, Canada and the USA released final recovery strategies for the species (EC 2008, USFWS 2008); and in 2013, Phoebastria albatrus was re-assessed by COSEWIC; and once again it was listed as Threatened (COSEWIC 2013). 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 of charge to the Alaskan longline fleet (USFWS 2008), 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 and National Special Natural Monument. 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 to four chicks in 2005, 13 chicks in 2006 and 16 chicks in 2007. In October-November 2007, 35 eggs were laid at this new site (Sato 2009). To expedite new colony establishment, in 2007, the Japanese government approved a project that chicks translocated from Torishima were hand-reared on a non-volcanic and former breeding island, Mukojima, 350 km away, (Deguchi et al. 2012). From 2008-2012, 70 chicks were translocated and 69 chicks successfully fledged (Deguchi et al. 2014). 27 hand-reared birds returned to Mukojima at least once per breeding season from 2011-2016 (Deguchi et al. 2017). Two hand-reared birds successfully paired with naturally reared birds and fledged two chicks at Mukojima and neighbouring island, Nakodojima, 5 km away, during this period (Deguchi et al. 2017).
Conservation Actions Proposed Continue to promote measures designed to protect this species from becoming hooked or entangled by commercial fishing gear. Promote conservation measures for the population of two islands in the East China Sea. Promote taxonomic re-evaluation through comparative studies of morphological, genetic, ecological, and ethological traits of birds on Torishima and the two islands in the East China Sea (Eda et al. 2016). Continue research into the at-sea distribution and marine habitat use through satellite telemetry studies. Continue land-based management and population monitoring on Torishima and Ogasawara Islands (Deguchi et al. 2017).
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
Anderson, O., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Ashpole, J, Moreno, R., Small, C., Sullivan, B., Symes, A.
Chan, S., Hasegawa, H., Balogh, G., Morgan, K., Deguchi, T., Suryan, R., Peet, N., Rivera, K.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Phoebastria albatrus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 03/02/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 03/02/2023.