USFWS
Fisheries & Ecological Services
Alaska Region   

 

Current Population

Short-tailed Albatross.  Photo Credit: Rob Suryan

Short-tailed Albatross. Photo Credit: Rob Suryan

Following their precipitous decline in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the short-tailed albatross population has been steadily increasing since their rediscovery in 1950. But how far along is the short-tailed albatross on the road to recovery?

Table 1. Short-tailed albatross population estimates on Torishima and Senkakus Islands, Japan

  Torishima Senkakus Total
2009 -2010 Breeding Season Breeders
1194
262
2940
Non-breeders
1177
307
2010 -2011 Breeding Season Breeders
1284
290
3181
Non-breeders
1265
342
2011 -2012 Breeding Season Breeders
1380
322
3441
Non-breeders
1360
379
2012 -2013 Breeding Season Breeders
1484
397
3808
Non-breeders
1464
466
2013 -2014 Breeding Season Breeders
1714
440
4362
Non-breeders
1690
518
2014 -2015 Breeding Season Breeders
1981
488
4996
Non-breeders
1952
575

The current poplulation estimate is 4,996 individuals (Table 1). The poplulation growth rate is approximately 7.5% per year (range from 5.2 - 9.4%; USFWS 2014)

Based on what is known about the short-tailed albatross survival and reproductive rates, we can predict future population growth. The population at Torishima, shown as the orange line below, probably will continue to be the largest colony, but the population at the Senkakus has the potential to grow as well. The population at Mukojima will remain very small for quite some time into the future. Model projections of population growth are contingent on continuing efforts to minimize external threats such as incidental bycatch in commercial fisheries. 

map 1


The USFWS prepared a recovery plan for the short-tailed albatross that laid out a road map of conservation activities to support the recovery of the species.  The recovery plan also established criteria for recovery:

  • Total breeding population > 1000 pairs
  • 3 year average growth rate ≥6% for ≥ 7 years
  • At least 250 pairs on 2 islands other than Torishima with ≥6% for ≥ 7 years
  • At least 75 pairs on site(s) other than Torishima and Senkaku Islands

The short-tailed albatross is making very good progress toward most of the recovery criteria. Overall population growth and population growth on islands other than Torishima are projected to meet the recovery criteria by 2017.  The population growth rate already meets the recovery criteria.  The challenge to recovering the species will be the growth of the new colony at Mukojima.  Even with the new pair that made an attempt to breed there starting in 2012, that population is not projected to reach 75 pairs until 2081 – however, significant immigration of birds to Mukojima from the other colonies could greatly accelerate growth, reaching the target population size before the projected date.

map 2

There are also occasional breeding attempts made in the Northwestern Hawaiian islands.  A pair on Midway Island has produced two chicks, and a pair has made several failed attempts on Kure Island.  Short-tailed albatrosses have also visited Laysan and Tern Islands in the French Frigate Shoals.  There has been discussion of initiating social attraction to draw more short-tailed albatrosses to these low-lying islands but that is a controversial issue, in light of climate change and sea level rise.  Additionally, the NW Hawaiian islands hold the largest breeding colonies of two other North Pacific albatrosses, and are located far from areas where Short-tailed albatrosses are known to forage during the breeding season.  Many researchers consider these locations to be sub-optimal habitat for the short-tailed albatross.

USFWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). 2014. 5-Year Review: Summary and Evaluation of the Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus). Anchorage, AK. 43pp

 

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