Fisheries & Ecological Services
Alaska Region   


At-Sea Distribution

Short-tailed Albatross in water.  Photo Courtesy: Rob Suryan

Albatrosses are well-known for making long-distance flights, often crossing entire ocean basins, including circumnavigations of the globe and the short-tailed albatross is no exception. The range of the short-tailed albatross covers most of the North Pacific Ocean primarily above 20° N latitude, including the Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk and a few observations from the East Sea between China and Japan. The species occurs throughout international waters and within the territorial seas (200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zones) of Mexico, the United States, Canada, Russia, Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Short-tailed albatross have been observed as far north as the Chukchi Sea in recent years.  The southern limit of short-tailed albatross is unknown, but probably coincides with the northern edge of the North Equatorial Current.

Historic records suggested that the species was presumably abundant along coastal North America as the bones of short-tailed albatross have been found in midden sites from many locations along the coasts of California, British Columbia and Alaska. Based upon the midden records, as well as the relative scarcity of pelagic observations, short-tailed albatross had been characterized as either a coastal or a nearshore species. Prior to the late 1990’s, however, most sightings of short-tailed albatross at sea were from US-based fishermen and fishery observers from heavily fished areas near the coastal and shelf-break zones. Satellite telemetry studies beginning in 2002 provided the first unbiased look at short-tailed albatross distribution throughout their entire range.

During the breeding season, short-tailed albatross primarily stay within the territorial seas of Japan, with occasional more distant trips.  They have one of the shortest breeding season foraging ranges among albatrosses, which in part explains the relatively rapid chick growth and short chick-rearing period compared to other albatross species.  During the non-breeding season, and for non-breeders year-round, short-tailed albatross disperse widely throughout the North Pacific.  The map below shows locations of both adult (in red) and juvenile (in yellow) obtained from satellite tracking research. 

map 1

During the summer, non-breeding season, short-tailed albatross spend most of their time offshore of Russia and Alaska.  During the winter, their distributions shifts south, although birds remain in the southeastern Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands year-round.  While birds do spend time in oceanic waters beyond the continental shelf including the Kuroshio Extension (east of Japan), and North Pacific Transition Zone (between Hawaii and Alaska), they spend more time and occur in highest densities along continental shelf-break and slope regions. The distribution of key prey items such as squids is one plausible explanation for the association of short-tailed albatross with these habitats.  It has been suggested that short-tailed albatross may be relatively common nearshore, especially where these habitat features occur in close proximity to the coast.  It may be most accurate to label the species as a continental shelf-edge specialist, rather than a coastal or nearshore species.  Submarine canyons are another key oceanographic feature that appears to attract large numbers of short-tailed albatross.  The largest concentration of short-tailed albatrosses observed was over one of the large canyons in the Bering Sea where   

From satellite tracking, researchers also learned that juvenile short-tailed albatross behave differently and have distinct distribution from adults.  Juvenile birds range much more widely than the adult birds – exploring the Sea of Okhotsk, a broader region of the Bering sea, and the west coast of North America.  Juvenile birds also travel greater daily distances than adults. Although the highest concentrations of short-tailed albatross are found in the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea regions of Alaska, sightings along the West Coast of the US have been reported more regularly in recent years.  These sightings are likely to increase as the population of short-tailed albatrosses grows and re-occupies historical at-sea habitats in greater numbers. 

There were concerns that the behavior of short-tailed albatrosses that were translocated to and hand-reared on Mukojima might differ from those naturally reared on Torishima.  Satellite tracking revealed that despite some differences in distribution during the first 6 months post-fledging, core areas used by hand-reared and naturally reared birds are quite similar.

Map caption: Core area (50% kernel) polygons of Mukojima and Torishima birds showing overlap in the North Pacific. Map from Deguchi et al. 2013.
Map caption: Core area (50% kernel) polygons of Mukojima and Torishima birds showing overlap in the North Pacific.  Map from Deguchi et al. 2013.

Relevant literature

Deguchi, T., R. M. Suryan, K. Ozaki, J. F. Jacobs, F. Sato, N. Nakamura, and G. R. Balogh. 2013. Translocation and hand-rearing of the short-tailed albatross Phoebastria albatrus: early indicators of success for species conservation and island restoration. Oryx FirstView:1-9.

McDermond, K. and K. H. Morgan. 1993. Status and conservation of North Pacific albatrosses. Pages 70-81 in The status, ecology, and conservation of marine birds of the North Pacific. Environment Canada, Victoria, B.C., Canada.

Piatt, J. F., J. Wetzel, K. Bell, A. R. DeGange, G. Balogh, G. Drew, T. Geernaert, C. Ladd, and G. V. Byrd. 2006. Predictable hotspots and foraging habitat of the endangered short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus) in the North Pacific: Implications for conservation. Deep-Sea Research,  Part II 53:387-398.

Suryan, R. M., D. J. Anderson, S. A. Shaffer, D. D. Roby, Y. Tremblay, D. P. Costa, P. R. Sievert, F. Sato, K. Ozaki, G. R. Balogh, and N. Nakamura. 2008. Wind, Waves, and Wing Loading: Morphological Specialization May Limit Range Expansion of Endangered Albatrosses. Plos One 3:e4016. doi:4010.1371/journal.pone.0004016.

Suryan, R. M. and K. N. Fischer. 2010. Stable isotope analysis and satellite tracking reveal interspecific resource partitioning of nonbreeding albatrosses off Alaska. Canadian Journal of Zoology 88:299-305.

Suryan, R. M., F. Sato, G. R. Balogh, D. K. Hyrenbach, P. R. Sievert, and K. Ozaki. 2006. Foraging destinations and marine habitat use of short-tailed albatrosses: A multi-scale approach using first-passage time analysis. Deep-Sea Research, Part II 53:370-386.


Short-tailed Albatross home page