(Map may reflect historical as well as recent sightings)
The short-tailed albatross was listed as
endangered throughout its range in
July 2000. Critical habitat is not
prudent for this species. A recovery plan, drafted in 2005,
is not finalized.
Historical Status and
The short-tailed albatross once ranged throughout most of the
North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea, with known nesting colonies
on the following islands: Torishima in the Seven Islands of Izu
Group in Japan; Mukojima, Nishinoshima, Yomeshima, and Kitanoshima
in the Bonin Islands of Japan; Kita-daitojima, Minami-daitojima,
and Okino-daitojima of the Daito group of Japan; Senkaku Retto
of southern Ryukyu Islands of Japan, including Minami-kojima,
Kobisho, and Uotsurijima; Iwo Jima in the western Volcanic Islands
(Kazan-Retto) of Japan; Agincourt Island, Taiwan; and Pescadore
Islands, of Taiwan, including Byosho Island.
Currently , the short-tailed albatross population is estimated
to be 1,200 birds. Of these, the total number of breeding age
birds is thought to be approximately 600 birds. At-sea sightings
since the 1940s indicate that the short-tailed albatross, while
very few in number today, is distributed widely throughout its
historical foraging range of the temperate and subarctic North
Pacific Ocean and is often found close to the U.S. coast.
Most of the world's breeding population nests on Torishima Island
in the Tsubamezaki colony.
Current nesting habitat on Torishima is steep sites on soils
containing loose volcanic ash. The island is dominated by
a grass, Miscanthus
sinensis var. condensatus. The grass is likely to stabilize
the soil, provide protection from weather, and minimize mutual
interference between nesting pairs while allowing for safe,
open takeoffs and landings. The nest is a grass or moss-lined
concave scoop about two feet in diameter. The only terrestrial
area within U.S. jurisdiction that is currently used by the
short-tailed albatross for attempted nesting is the Midway Atoll.
Short-tailed albatross forage at sea but specific geographic
and seasonal distribution patterns within the marine range are
not well understood. The short-tailed albatross is a frequent
visitor to the productive waters in shelf break areas of the Northern
Gulf of Alaska, Aleutians Islands, and Bering Sea. The marine
range of the short-tailed albatross within U.S. territorial waters
includes Alaska's vast coastal shelf break areas and the marine
waters of Hawaii for foraging, but we do not know how much or
to what extent it utilizes open ocean areas of the Gulf of Alaska,
North Pacific Ocean, and Bering Sea.
The short-tailed albatross is a large pelagic bird with long narrow
wings adapted for soaring just above the water surface. The bill,
which is disproportionately large compared to the bills of other
northern hemisphere albatrosses, is pink and hooked with a bluish
tip, with external tubular nostrils, and a thin but conspicuous
black line extending around the base. Adult short-tailed albatrosses
are the only North Pacific albatross with an entirely white back.
The white head develops a yellow-gold crown and nape over several
years. Fledged juveniles are dark brown-black, but soon develop
the pale bills and legs that distinguish them from black-footed
and Laysan albatrosses.
Short-tailed albatrosses are long-lived and slow to mature.
The average age at first breeding is six years. As many
as 25 percent of breeding age adults may not return to the colony
in a given year. Survival rates for all post-fledging ages combined
are high (96 percent).
Birds arrive at the breeding colony in October and begin nest-building.
Egg-laying begins in late October and continues through late
November. The female lays a single egg; incubation involves
both parents and lasts for 64 to 65 days. Eggs hatch in late
December and January, and by late May or early June, the chicks
are almost full-grown and the adults begin abandoning their nests.
Short-tailed albatrosses are monogamous and highly philopatric
(returning to the same breeding site year after
year) to nesting areas. However, young birds may occasionally
disperse from their natal colonies to breed, as evidenced by
the appearance of adult birds on Midway Atoll that were banded
as chicks on Torishima.
The diet of short-tailed albatrosses includes squid, fish, eggs
of flying fish, shrimp, and other crustaceans.
Reason for Decline
At the beginning of the 20th century, the species declined in
population numbers to near extinction, primarily as a result
of hunting at the breeding colonies in Japan. Albatross were
killed for their feathers and various other body parts. The
down feathers were used for quilts and pillows, and wing and
tail feathers were used for writing quills; their bodies were
processed into fertilizer and rendered into fat, and their
eggs were collected for food. Pre-exploitation worldwide population
estimates of short-tailed albatrosses are not known; the total
number of birds harvested may provide the best estimate, since
the harvest drove the species nearly to extinction. Between
approximately 1885 and 1903, an estimated five million short-tailed
albatrosses were harvested from the breeding colony on Torishima,
and harvest continued until the early 1930s. By 1949, there
were no short-tailed albatrosses breeding at any of the historically
known breeding sites, including Torishima, and the species
was thought to be extinct. The species persisted, however,
and in 1950, the chief of the weather station at Torishima,
Mr. M. Yamamoto, reported nesting of the short-tailed albatross.
Presumably, these birds had been wandering the North Pacific
during the final several years of indiscriminate killing.
The worldwide population of short-tailed albatrosses continues
to be in danger of extinction throughout its range due to natural
environmental threats, small population size, and the small
number of breeding colonies. Longline fishing, plastics pollution,
oil contamination, and airplane strikes are not viewed as threats
to the species' survival, but are considered threats to the
species' conservation and recovery.
Two primary activities have been undertaken to enhance breeding
success on Torishima: (1) erosion control efforts at the
Tsubamesaki colony have improved nesting success; (2)
an attempt to establish a second breeding colony on Torishima
involved an experimental program for luring breeding birds
to the opposite side of the island from the Tsubamesaki colony.
Preliminary results of the experiment are promising; the first
chick was produced in 1997. The expectation is that, absent
a volcanic eruption or some other catastrophic event, the
population on Torishima will continue to grow but it
will be many years before the breeding sites are limited.
References and Links
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2000. Final Rule To List the
Short-Tailed Albatross as Endangered in the United States. FR
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2005. Short-Tailed
Recovery Plan (For Public Review).