Albatross

Page - September 21, 2007

Estimated population:

The second most common seabird in the Hawaiian Islands, the laysan albatross, has a population of about 874,000 and its numbers are decreasing.

According to the 2006 IUCN Red List, the laysan albatross is categorized as Vulnerable. 19 of the 21 albatross species are threatened with extinction.

Ways to identify this species:

The laysan albatross is a large seabird but small (81cm) for its family. The laysan has a dark grey back, mantle, tail and wings, and a white underbelly and head. The plumage resembles that of a gull but the beak is a pinkish color with a darker tip.

Biology

  • Albatrosses occupy all of the world's oceans except the Arctic. Seventeen of the 21 species only occupy the Southern Ocean.
  • The laysan albatross ranges across the North Pacific and is named for its breeding colony in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
  • Albatrosses feed on squid, fish, and krill that they acquire by scavenging, surface seizing, or diving.
  • It takes pairs of males and females many years of courtship to form, but once they have chosen their partner, they stay together for life.
  • From laying to fledging, breeding can often last a year or more. Only one egg is laid per breeding season and both parents incubate it during a 65 day period. The chick takes around 160 days to fledge, and are fed a rich stomach oil by their parents. Both parents are equally invested in the process.
  • Gliding on wind currents, the albatross travels thousands of miles with little flapping of their wings. Some species of albatross cover distances equal to flying around the world at the equator 3 times each year! The wandering albatross flies up to 6,250 miles to gather food for its chick and it is estimated that a 50 year old albatross has flown at least 3.7 million miles over its lifetime!
  • Albatrosses can live for over 60 years; however, it is now rare that they survive that long.

Threats

  • Longline fisheries currently pose the greatest threat to albatross as birds are attracted to the bait and become hooked on the lines and drown. Approximately 100,000 albatrosses are killed this way every year, 1/3 of which are caused by illegal and unregulated fishing fleets.
  • An even more tragic cause for albatross mortality is consumption of marine debris, mainly plastic, that they mistake for food. Birds are found with bellies full of trash, including cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, syringes, toys, clothespins and every other type of plastic material. On Midway Atoll, 40 percent of albatross chicks die due to dehydration and starvation from trash filling their bellies providing no nutrition. It has been estimated that albatross feed their chicks about 5 tons of plastic a year at Midway Atoll.
  • The marine debris collects through a system of currents called the North Pacific subtropical gyre, located half way between Hawaii and San Francisco. Greenpeace refers to this region as the Trash Vortex, and it is also known as the Eastern Garbage Patch. Slack winds and low currents in the center of the vortex enable trash from all around the Pacific to collect causing high concentrations of plastic debris.
  • Some of the island populations are also threatened by feral cats.
  • This species is in real danger of extinction because they are unable to breed fast enough to keep up with population declines.

Topics