Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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ACAP Breeding Site No. 65. Torishima, where Short-tailed Albatrosses have survived both feather collectors and an active volcano

Torishima (“bird island” in Japanese) is located in the southern tip of the Izu Island chain in the western Pacific, approximately 600 km to the south of Tokyo, Japan, to which country it belongs.  It is a volcanic island approximately 2.5 km across with a total area of 4.79 km2.  The highest point is Mount Iwo at 394 m.  The last volcanic activity on the island was in 2002; previous major eruptions have led to loss of life.

Torishima, photograph by Hiroshi Hasegawa, Toho University

Torishima with the locations marked of the original Short-tailed Albatross colony at Tsubama-zaki and the new colony site at Hatsune-zaki

Courtesy of Hiroshi Hasegawa

Historically uninhabited, the island became the site of a feather-collecting operation beginning in 1886.  Over the course of the next two decades possibly five million Short-tailed Albatrosses Phoebastria albatrus were slaughtered for their feathers to use in down quilts and pillows.  Feather collecting continued until the early 1930s, and by 1949 there were no longer any albatrosses breeding on the island (click here).

Historical photographs of Short-tailed Albatrosses on Torishima

Courtesy of Yamashina Institute, c. 1930

Following the Second World War, a meteorological station was established on Torishima, and the workers reported Short-tailed Albatrosses breeding on the island in 1951.

Torishima was designated a National Wildlife Protection Area in 1954.  The level of protection was further increased when the island was designated as a National Natural Monument of Japan in 1958 and as a National Natural Treasure in 1965.  Japan also designated the Short-tailed Albatross itself as a National Natural Treasure in 1958 and as a Special Natural Treasure in 1962.

The meteorological station on Torishima was abandoned in 1965 because of safety concerns regarding volcanic activity on the island following severe earthquakes.

Abandoned meteorological station on Torishima photographed by Paul Sievert

The island is now a long-term study site for researchers from Toho University and the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology.  A permit is required to make a landing and only ship-based tourism occurs.

Short-tailed Albatross on Torishma, photograph by Hiroshi Hasegawa

Approximately 80-85% of the World's population of the Vulnerable Short-tailed Albatross breeds on Torishima.  The main breeding colony is situated at Tsubame-zaki, a steeply-sloping area located in the south-east of the island (see above map).  A total of 450 pairs bred at this site in 2013.

The Tsubame-zaki colony site is located on a sparsely vegetated, fluvial outwash that is prone to erosion.  Steep cliffs surround the colony and make access difficult  Photograph by Rob Suryan

Because the Tsubame-zaki site is prone to erosion and mudslides, despite transplantations and erosion control leading to temporary improvements in breeding success, researchers commencing in 1993 hoped to draw the Short-tailed Albatrosses to breed at another locality on Torishima.  After many years of consistent effort applying social-attraction techniques (model albatrosses and a sound system) in “Operation Decoy” (click here), Short-tailed Albatrosses have been successfully attracted to a new breeding site on the island.  The new colony is in a locality known as Hatsune-zaki, a gently-sloping area on the western side of the island.  A total of 148 pairs bred in this area in 2013.  Two breeding localities on Torishima spread the risk if the volcano re-erupts.  In 2012 and 2013 the island respectively supported totals of 538 and 598 breeding pairs in the two colonies combined (click here).

Decoys and recorded sounds of a crowded colony have drawn young Short-tailed Albatrosses to breed at the Hatsune-zaki colony site

Photograph by Rob Suryan

Two colonies of ACAP-listed and Near Threatened Black-footed Albatrosses P. nigripes totalling 2060-2150 breeding pairs are present on Torishima at Hatsune-zaki (from 1988) and Tsubame-zaki (click here).  Breeding by Black-foots on Torishima was first reported in 1957 (six pairs), although adult birds have been reported from 1929.  Their numbers have been steadily increasing since then.

Other seabirds that breed on the island include Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus and Near Threatened Tristram’s Storm Petrels Oceanodroma tristrami which suffer predation from Black or Ship Rats Rattus rattus.

Click here to read of efforts by Japan with USA support to create a breeding colony of Short-tailed Albatrosses on Mukojima, a non-volcanic island, utilizing translocation techniques.

With thanks to Hiroshi Hasegawa, Toho University, Margaret Koopman, University of Cape Town and Paul Sievert, University of Massachusetts Amherst for information and photographs.

Selected Literature:

Eda, M., Koike, H., Kuro-o, M., Mihara, S., Hasegawa, H. & Higuchu, H. 2012.  Inferring the ancient population structure of the vulnerable albatross Phoebastria albatrus, combining ancient DNA, stable isotope, and morphometric analyses of archaeological samples.  Conservation Genetics 13: 143-151.

Finkelstein, M.E., Wolf, S. Goldman, M.; Doak, D.F., Sievert, P R., Balogh, G. & Hasegawa, H. 2010.  The anatomy of a (potential) disaster: volcanoes, behavior and population viability of the Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus). Biological Conservation 143: 321-331.

Hasegawa, H. 1984.  Status and conservation of seabirds in Japan, with special attention to the Short-tailed Albatross.  In:Croxall, J.P., Evans, P.G.H. & Schreiber, R.W. (Eds).  Status and Conservation of the World’s Seabirds.  Cambridge: International Council for Bird Preservation.  pp. 487-500.

Hasegawa, H. 2006.  Ahodori ni Muchu (Passionate about albatross).  Tokyo: Shin-nihon Shuppan.  182 pp.

Hasegawa, H. & DeGange, A.R. 1982.  The Short-tailed Albatross, Diomedea albatrus, its status, distribution and natural history with reference to the breeding biology of other northern hemisphere albatrosses.  American Birds 36: 806-814.

Hayashi, K., Ogi, H., Tsurumi, M. & Sato, F. 1997.  Present status and conservation of Black-footed Albatross population in the North Pacific and on Torishima.  Journal of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology 29: 97-101.

Kuro-o, M., Yonekawa, H., Saito, S., Eda, M., Higuchi, H., Koike, H. & Hasegawa, H. 2010.  Unexpectedly high genetic diversity of mtDNA control region through severe bottleneck in vulnerable Albatross Phoebastria albatrusConservation Genetics 11: 127-137.

Sato, F. 2009.  Increase in pairs of the Short-tailed Albatross Diomedea albatrus at an artificial breeding ground.  Journal of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology 40: 139-143.

To access more publications on Torishima’s albatrosses click here.

Rob Suryan, Oregon State University,  Tomohiro Deguchi, Yamashina Institute & John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 12 March 2014 

Marine ornithologist who studies ACAP-listed albatrosses and petrels is appointed Director of the prestigious Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology

Professor Peter Ryan has been appointed Director of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at South Africa’s University of Cape Town with effect from the beginning of the month.  Peter has been Acting Director of the “Fiztitute” since the untimely passing last year of its previous Director, Philip Hockey.

Peter is a graduate of the University of Cape Town (UCT).  Following a First Class Zoology Honours he completed his MSc (on plastic pollution in seabirds) and his PhD (on the endemic finches of Triston da Cunha’s Inaccessible Island) at UCT.  After a post-doc in California, he returned to South Africa to take up a lectureship post in the Institute in 1993.

Peter Ryan poses with the flag of Tristan da Cunha on the top of Stoltenthoff Islet with Nightingale Island in the background

Photograph by Tristan Islander Norman Glass

For the last two decades, Peter has been in charge of the FitzPatrick Institute’s research programmes on ACAP-listed and other seabirds at South Africa’s Prince Edward Islands in the southern Indian Ocean and on the Tristan islands, especially Gough and Inaccessible, in the South Atlantic, as well as at sea in the Southern Ocean.

His long-term research on the endemic and ACAP-listed Spectacled Petrel Procellaria conspicillata of Inaccessible has first shown the petrel is specifically distinct from the White-chinned Petrel P. aequinoctialis, and then has shown that its population is steadily increasing, allowing it be downlisted from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable in 2007 by BirdLife International.

Spectacled Petrels on Inaccessible Island, photographs by Peter Ryan

Peter Ryan has served on the ACAP Advisory Committee’s Taxonomic Working Group since its inception.

For more information on Peter Ryan’s ornithological career, including a full publication list click here.

Selected Literature:

Reid, T.A., Ronconi, R.A., Cuthbert, R.J. & Ryan, P.G. 2014.  The summer foraging ranges of adult Spectacled Petrels Procellaria conspicillata.  Antarctic Science 26: 23-32.

Ryan, P.G. & Moloney, C.L. 2000.  The status of Spectacled Petrels Procellaria conspicillata and other seabirds at Inaccessible Island.  Marine Ornithology 28: 93-100.

Ryan, P.G. & Ronconi, R.[A.] 2011.  Continued increase in numbers of Spectacled Petrels Procellaria conspicillata. Antarctic Science 23: 332-336.

Ryan, P.G., Dorse, C. & Hilton, G.M. 2006.  The conservation status of the Spectacled Petrel Procellaria conspicillata.  Biological Conservation 131: 575-583.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 11 March 2014

Dividing up the (fishy) pie: resource separation among albatrosses and petrels in the South Atlantic

Thomas Bodey (Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn, UK) and colleagues write in the Journal of Animal Ecology on resource partitioning by selected albatrosses and petrels that occur on Bird Island in the South Atlantic during both summer (breeding) and winter (non-breeding) months.

The paper’s summary follows:

  1. Interspecific competitive interactions typically result in niche differentiation to alleviate competition through mechanisms including character displacement.  However, competition is not the sole constraint on resource partitioning, and its effects are mediated by factors including the environmental context in which species coexist.
  2. Colonial seabirds provide an excellent opportunity to investigate the importance of competition in shaping realized niche widths because their life histories lead to variation in intra- and interspecific competition across the annual cycle.  Dense breeding aggregations result in intense competition for prey in surrounding waters, whereas non-breeding dispersal to larger geographical areas produces lower densities of competitors.
  3. Bayesian hierarchical models of the isotopic niche, closely aligned to the trophic niche, reveal the degree of segregation between species and functional groups during both time periods.  Surprisingly, species explained far more of the variance in the isotopic niche during the non-breeding than the breeding period.
  4. Our results underline the key role of non-breeding dynamics in alleviating competition and promoting distinctions between species through the facilitation of resource partitioning.  Such situations may be common in a diverse range of communities sustained by ephemeral but abundant food items.
  5. This highlights how consideration of the hierarchical grouping of competitive interactions alongside consideration of abiotic constraints across the complete annual cycle allows a full understanding of the role of competition in driving patterns of character displacement.

Grey-headed Albatross on Bird Island, photograph by Richard Phillips

With thanks to Barry Baker for information.


Bodey, T.W., Ward, E.J., Phillips, R.A., McGill, R.A.R. & Bearhop, S. 2014.  Species versus guild level differentiation revealed across the annual cycle by isotopic niche examination.  Journal of Animal Ecology 83: 470-478.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 10 March 2014

A field season with Black-Browed Albatrosses on New Island

As every year for the last 12 years, a study plot of 280 nests of Black-Browed Albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris has been monitored on New Island, Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)*.  This season the “Albatross Dream Team” consisted of Letizia Campioni, Deborah Pardo and Paulo Catry.

A study colony on the south-western cliffs of New Island

Undertaking attendance checks, photograph by Gunnar Scholtz

Individual presence, breeding success and laying dates were recorded to construct a solid demographic data set.  At the same time, the main goals for this season were to deploy GPS and GLS trackers on breeding birds so as to record movements and activity during both incubation and chick-rearing.  This tracking information will be used in conjunction with isotopic analyses of blood and feathers.

A pair of marked albatrosses during a shift changeover

In addition, a large part of the project was to improve knowledge of the at-sea movements of pre-breeding immature birds.  Seventy-five GPS trackers were deployed on three- to seven year-old birds previously banded as chicks that had returned as non-breeding “loafers” within the colony.  These immatures were marked with TESA tape on their metal bands to aid in their identification for recapture.  Again blood samples were taken for isotopic analyses as well as for genetic sexing.  GLS loggers were then deployed for studying their wintering areas and we hope to recover them in the following years.

An immature Black-browed Albatross flies overhead wearing a leg-mounted GLS tracker

Photographs by Deborah Pardo unless noted.

Selected Literature:

Catry, P., Forcada, J. & Almeida, A. 2011.  Demographic parameters of Black-browed Albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris from the Falkland Islands.  Polar Biology 34: 1221-1229.

Strange, I.J. 2007.  New Island, Falkland Islands: a South Atlantic Wildlife Sanctuary for Conservation Management.  Stanley: Design in Nature.  152 pp.

Deborah Pardo, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK and ACAP European News Correspondent, 09 March 2014

*A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (Islas Georgias del Sur y Islas Sandwich del Sur) and the surrounding maritime areas.

UPDATE: Petition has reached 4188 signatures requesting the USA to ratify ACAP

UPDATE:  The petition now aims to collect 5000 signatures and to date has reached a total of 2804 (07 February 2014) and 4188 (08 March 2014).

The National Audubon Society, an NGO based in the USA, has initiated an on-line petition that requests US Congress members to support the ratification of ACAP.  The petition aims to collect 2500 signatures and to date has collected 2439 (click here).

Three ACAP-listed species, the Black-footed Phoebastria nigripes, Laysan P. immutabilis and Short-tailed P. albatrus Albatrosses, breed within the USA, all on islands in the Hawaiian chain in the North Pacific.

The USA has been an active participant in the work of ACAP since its inception, sending observers to all the Sessions of the Meeting of Parties and of its Advisory Committee and working group meetings held to date.  The USA also attended the second and final negotiation meetings for ACAP held in 2000 and 2001. However, it has yet to ratify the Agreement and become a Party to ACAP.

In September 2008 then USA President George W. Bush transmitted the Agreement to the United States Senate for approval (click here).  In January 2009, the United States Departments of Commerce and of the Interior jointly forwarded to the U.S. Congress proposed legislation to implement the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels in the USA, entitled the Albatross and Petrel Conservation Act of 2009 (click here).

Short-tailed Albatross breeding on Midway Atoll, photograph by Sarah Gutowsky

The mission of the National Audubon Society is to “conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity.”

ACAP came into force in February 2004 and currently has 13 member countries and covers 30 species of albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 29 January 2014, updated 08 March 2014

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