Albatrosses, of the biological family Diomedeidae, are large seabirds
allied to the procellariids, storm-petrels and
diving-petrels in the order Procellariiformes (the tubenoses). They
range widely in the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific.
They are absent from the North Atlantic.
Albatrosses are among the largest of flying birds, and the great albatrosses,
have the largest wingspans of any extant
birds. The albatrosses are usually regarded as falling into four genera,
but there is disagreement over the number of species
, Great albatrosses
, North Pacific albatrosses
, Sooty albatrosses
2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>.
Downloaded on 9th April 2008.
for latin names in brackets - se Taxonomy below
Albatross numbers under
The albatrosses comprise between 13 and 24 species (the number
of species is still a matter of some debate, 21 being
the most commonly accepted number) in 4 genera. They
are the great albatrosses, Diomedea, the mollymawks,
the North Pacific albatrosses, Phoebastria, and
the sooty albatrosses or sooties, Phoebetria.
Of the four genera,
the North Pacific albatrosses are considered to be a sister
taxon to the great albatrosses, while the sooty albatrosses
considered closer to the mollymawks.
We have as per April 2012, collected the albatrosses on four
pages according to their 4 genera.
working on that right now, April 23rd
The taxonomy of the albatross group has been a source of a great
deal of debate. The Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy places seabirds,
birds of prey and many others in a greatly enlarged order Ciconiiformes,
whereas the ornithological organisations in North America, Europe,
South Africa, Australia and New Zealand retain the more traditional
order Procellariiformes. The albatrosses
can be separated from the other Procellariiformes both
genetically and through morphological characteristics, size,
and the arrangement of their nasal tubes (see Morphology
and flight on the source-page).
Within the family the assignment of genera has been debated
for over a hundred years. Originally placed into a single genus,
Diomedea, they were rearranged by Reichenbach into four
different genera in 1852, then lumped back together and split
again several times, acquiring 12 different genus names in total
(though never more than eight at one time) by 1965 (Diomedea,
Phoebastria, Thalassarche, Phoebetria, Thalassageron, Diomedella,
Nealbatrus, Rhothonia, Julietata, Galapagornis,
Laysanornis, and Penthirenia).
By 1965, in an attempt to bring some order back to the classification
of albatrosses, they were lumped into two genera,
Phoebetria (the sooty albatrosses which most closely
seemed to resemble the procellarids and were at the time considered
"primitive" ) and Diomedea (the rest). Though
there was a case for the simplification of the family (particularly
nomenclature), the classification was based on the morphological
analysis of Elliott Coues in 1866, and paid little attention
more recent studies and even ignored some of Coues's suggestions.
More recent research by Gary
Nunn of the American Museum of Natural History (1996) and
other researchers around the
world studied the mitochondrial DNA of all 14 accepted species,
finding that there were four, not two, monophyletic groups
within the albatrosses. They proposed the resurrection of
two of the old genus names, Phoebastria for the North Pacific
albatrosses and Thalassarche for the mollymawks, with the
great albatrosses retaining Diomedea and the sooty albatrosses
staying in Phoebetria. Both the British Ornithologists' Union
and the South African authorities split the albatrosses into
genera as Nunn suggested, and the change has been accepted
by the majority of researchers.
While there is some agreement on the number of genera, there
is less agreement on the number of species. Historically,
up to 80
different taxa have been described by different researchers;
most of these were incorrectly identified juvenile birds.
Based on the work on albatross genera, Robertson and Nunn
went on in 1998 to propose a revised taxonomy with 24 different
species, compared to the 14 then accepted. This interim taxonomy
elevated many established subspecies to full species, but
criticised for not using, in every case, peer reviewed information
to justify the splits. Since then further studies have in
instances supported or disproved the splits; a 2004 paper
analysing the mitochondrial DNA and microsatellites agreed
conclusion that the Antipodean Albatross and the Tristan Albatross
were distinct from the Wandering Albatross, per Robertson
and Nunn, but found that the suggested Gibson's Albatross,
Diomedea gibsoni, was not distinct from the Antipodean
For the most part, an interim taxonomy of 21 species
is accepted by the IUCN and many other researchers, though
by no means
allin 2004 Penhallurick and Wink called for the number
of species to be reduced to 13 (including the lumping of the
Amsterdam Albatross with the Wandering Albatross), although
this paper was itself controversial. On all sides, there is
widespread agreement on the need for further research to clarify
Downloaded April 23, 2012
Posted Tue Mar 25, 2008 7:05am AEDT
fishing is also a significant threat to albatross. (File photo)
(AAP: Australian Antarctic Division/Graham Robertson)
Wildlife Fund is calling for better protection of albatross nesting
sites after new research
revealed the species is under an increased threat from pests.
Univeristy study into the effect of climate change on endangered
species has predicted
warmer temparatures will see feral species thrive in island and
Wildlife Fund's Kat Miller says albatross breeding grounds such
as Macquarie Island
in the Southern Ocean are already infested by rats and rabbits.
a further increase in pest populations could place some albatross
species at risk
of immediate extinction.
albatross species that are particularly going to be at risk are
the ones that breed on a single island,
or just one or two islands," Ms Miller said.
six of Australia's albatross species breed on only one or two islands
in Australian waters.
If these sites become unsuitable then the albatross have no-where
else to go," she said.
fishing agencies are currently setting about 400 million hooks
across the Atlantic.
"That's a lot of hooks and even though a vessel may catch
either no birds on a particular set or maybe only one bird or two
birds, the problem is when you multiply that up across millions
and millions of hooks then it becomes a problem for our seabirds."
|The total number of hooks set in Australian waters
south of 30 degrees between 1 January and 31 December 1994
by Japanese tuna fishing vessels was 13 720 283 (data supplied
From data gathered by AFMA observers in the same period and
weighted to take account of differences between
the detected winter and summer kill rates and the proportion
of hooks set in winter and summer, it has been
estimated that the kill of seabirds on these lines is 4 645
The Australian domestic tuna fishing industry set 2 219 408
hooks in 1994 (data supplied by AFMA).
Using kill rates calculated by the Tasmanian Department of Parks
Wildlife and Heritage for this domestic fishery,
the estimated the kill of seabirds on domestic tuna longlines
is 2 108 birds.
It is important to note that the AFMA observer data records
only those birds, almost always dead,
that are hauled aboard on longlines. It does not take account
of those birds that are hooked but torn
from the hooks before being hauled aboard.
These animals may be eaten by sharks, or escape and may die
at sea or back at the colony, as has been recorded
by French researchers. It has been estimated that birds in this
category may be up to 30% of the number of birds
Therefore any estimates of seabirds killed on longlines calculated
from the AFMA observer data must be
considered to be minimum estimates. When these minimum estimates
(6 753) of birds killed on longlines caught in
Australian waters south of 30 degrees in 1994 by Japanese tuna
boats (4 645) and domestic tuna boats (2 108)
are factored to take account of this 'undetected' kill then
the estimated number of seabirds caught on longlines in
1994 rises to about 8 700 (assuming an undetected kill of approximately
From the available data, it has been estimated that 75% of the
seabirds killed are albatross species with the balance
comprised predominantly of species of large petrels and a small
proportion of some shearwater species.
On this basis the kill of albatross species in Australian waters
south of 30 degrees in 1994, ie approx 6 500 birds,
may have been around 15% of the total number of albatross estimated
to be killed on longlines worldwide.
(That should make a total of 43.000 killed albatrosses worldwide)
What is a Longline?
A longline is a fishing line usually made of monofilament.
The length of the line generally ranges from 1.6km (1 mile)
to as long as 100km (62 miles).
The line is buoyed by styrofoam or plastic floats.
Every hundred or so feet, there is a secondary line attached
extending down about 5m (16 feet). This secondary line is
hooked and baited with squid, fish, or in cases we have discovered,
with fresh dolphin meat.
baited hooks can be seen by albatross from the air and when
they dive on the hooks,
they are caught and they drown. Other forms of marine wildlife
see the bait from the waters
below and get hooked when they try to eat the bait.
lines are set adrift from vessels for a period of 12 to 24
Are These Longlines Doing to the Albatross?
for the various species of albatross in this remote part of
fleets of hundreds of fishing vessels from Japan, Korea, Taiwan,
and Indonesia hunt
the Southern bluefin tuna, sharks, and billfish.
and other seabird species are caught and dragged underwater
to their deaths
on these deadly, baited hooks as they are launched from the
many as 100 million hooks a year are set by the Japanese fleet
alone in the Southern
bluefin tuna fishery. Tens of thousands of birds are being
conservative calculation for albatross killed on Japanese
longliners is 44,000 per year.
The actual figure could be double that, according to researchers,
but data on albatross
kills by other nations' fishing vessels is not available.
of the world's 14 albatross species are believed to be dying
in the tens of thousands
each year in this way. Because of the large number of birds
commercial fishing has been identified as the most serious
threat to the survival
of most albatross species.
found as perSept 2010)
See also our pages here:
|What Are These Longlines Doing to the Sea Turtles?
Many species of sea turtles fall victim to the deadly hooks
of the longliners.
20,000 loggerhead turtles are captured every year by the
Spanish longline fishery in the Mediterranean Sea, and 4,000
of them are believed to die because they are returned to the
sea with the hook still embedded in their throats.
Sea Shepherd crew have recorded dozens of turtle carcasses
along the Pacific coast of Central America. When examined,
all the dead turtles were found to have hooks embedded in
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS),
75% of the loggerhead turtles and 40% of the leatherback turtles
taken by United States-based pelagic longliners in the Atlantic
are caught on the Grand Banks in the North Atlantic .
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
reports that 40,000 sea turtles are killed annually in the
global longline fisheries.
Leatherback turtles, the largest turtles in the world, will
be extinct within a few decades if current fishing practices
continue. That is the conclusion of marine researchers speaking
at the 2002 annual meeting of the American Association for
the Advancement of Science in Denver. "We've done specific
analysis on beaches where we've got a lot of data and we expect
them to disappear in 10 to 30 years," said Larry Crowder,
from Duke University, North Carolina.
(not valid as per Sept. 2010)