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National recovery plan for Albatrosses and Giant-petrels

Wildlife Scientific Advice, Natural Heritage Division
Environment Australia, October 2001

Note:This publication has been superseded by the National recovery plan for threatened albatrosses and giant petrels 2011—2016

2. Species breeding within areas under Australian jurisdiction

This section describes in detail the breeding and non-breeding distributions, breeding biology, foraging ecology, and population status of each albatross and giant-petrel species breeding on Australian islands.

Five species of albatross and both species of giant-petrels breed on islands under Australian jurisdiction. These are:

2.1 Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans Linnaeus, 1758

Previous name

Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans exulans

Breeding locations and jurisdictions (see Map 1)
Jurisdiction Breeding locality
Australia Macquarie Island
France Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Islands
South Africa Marion Island, Prince Edward Islands
Other South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur)
Protection status
Jurisdiction Protection status
International Vulnerable
Cms Appendices Listed
National EPBC act Vulnerable
Tasmania Endangered
Victoria Protected
New South Wales Endangered
Queensland Protected
South Australia Protected
Western Australia Vulnerable
Northern Territory Protected
Action Plan for Australian Birds
  • Australian Breeding Population
  • Population Visiting Australian Territory
Critically Endangered
Vulnerable
Australian population monitoring programs
Breeding locality Current monitoring program?
Macquarie Island Yes

Distribution

The Wandering Albatross frequents most of the Southern Ocean, from the edge of the pack ice (68 S), north to at least the Tropic of Capricorn and sometimes beyond. It approaches 10 S along the western coasts of South America and Africa, and vagrants have even been seen off California and in the northern Atlantic. In winter, Wandering Albatrosses are more often found north of the Antarctic Convergence (Blakers et al. 1984; Marchant and Higgins 1990; Nicholls et al. 1995, 1997, 2000). The precise distribution of this species is complicated by its recent separation from Tristan Albatross, Antipodean Albatross and Gibson's Albatross.

Wandering Albatrosses are highly dispersive. Many have been recovered more than 10,000km from where they were banded, travelling 100-200km a day (Jouventin and Weimerskirch 1990; Prince et al. 1992; Nicholls et al. 1992, 1996; Nicholls and Murray 1997; Weimerskirch et al. 1993; Walker et al. 1995). Individuals from Macquarie Island, South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur), Marion Island, the Crozets and Kerguelen Islands have all been recaptured off the NSW coast (Blakers et al. 1984; Battam and Smith 1993). Wandering Albatrosses have been recorded off the coasts of southern Australia, from Fremantle in the west to Brisbane in the east, and occasionally north to the Whitsunday Passage (Blakers et al. 1984; Reid et al. in press). This species also occurs in Australia's pelagic, offshore and inshore waters (even into harbours) at all times of year, though it is most common off south-east Australia (especially the Tasman Sea) from October-April (Battam and Smith 1993; Reid et al. in press).

Breeding biology

Wandering Albatross pairs invest heavily in their breeding attempt, which lasts 55 weeks. Breeding is at least biennial (many successful breeders do not breed again for another three or four years and unsuccessful breeders often will not breed for two or three years: Croxall et al. 1990). Breeding pairs return to the nest site between early November to early January, depending on location (Paulian 1953 and Mougin 1970, in Marchant and Higgins 1990). Most birds at Macquarie Island have returned by late November (Gales et al. in press).

Wandering Albatrosses breed in loose colonies generally on exposed tussock covered ridges near the sea. The egg is laid in December at Macquarie Island (Gales et al. in press) and between December and February at other locations (Croxall et al. 1990). The egg is then incubated for about 79 days. The chick emerges in February-April, and remains in the nest for another 277-304 days during which time it may build a new nest for itself (Croxall et al. 1990; Gales et al. in press).

Adult Wandering Albatrosses have been recorded travelling up to 15,200km between incubation bouts. One bird breeding at the Crozet Islands was tracked by satellite telemetry flying south-west to Antarctica to forage, returning via Heard Island (Weimerskirch et al. 1993). Breeding adults may forage hundreds or thousands of kilometres from the nest during the chick-rearing phase (Croxall and Prince 1987; Jouventin and Weimerskirch 1990; Weimerskirch et al. 1993).

The chick fledges between mid-November and early February. By this time most of the next seasons pairs have already arrived to breed (Paulian 1953 and van Zinderen Bakker 1971, in Marchant and Higgins 1990). At Macquarie Island, fledging occurs in early November to early January (Gales et al. in press). From 1974-1978 mean breeding success of Wandering Albatrosses on Macquarie Island was 53% (range = 0-78%: Tomkins 1985). In recent years (1994-1999) breeding success has averaged 56% (range = 30-73%: Gales et al. unpubl. data). In most cases breeding failure is a result of hatching failure (Gales et al. unpubl. data). Mean breeding success at Bird Island (South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur)) is 71% (Croxall et al. 1998), while the mean breeding success at Possession Island (Crozet Island group) approaches 69% (Weimerskirch et al. 1997a).

Wandering Albatrosses show almost absolute levels of philopatry, ensuring minimal genetic interchange among colonies. The immature birds remain at sea for the first 3-11 years of their life, until they return to their natal colony. The young birds then begin pair formation, which usually takes another 2-3 years. Breeding eventually begins at 7-16 years of age, with females tending to breed at a slightly younger age than males (Weimerskirch and Jouventin 1987; Pickering 1988; Croxall et al. 1990).

Foraging ecology

Wandering Albatrosses may form flocks of up to 50 individuals at rich food sources, particularly behind fishing vessels (Dixon 1933, in Marchant and Higgins 1990). They are voracious scavengers, out-competing all other seabirds for fishing discards and baited hooks (Weimerskirch et al. 1986; Brothers 1991). Previous reports indicated that most 'natural' feeds are nocturnal (Harper 1987). More recently, individuals fitted with stomach temperature sensors took 89% of prey items during daylight hours (Weimerskirch and Wilson 1992; Weimerskirch et al. 1997b), however it is not known whether these telemetered birds were feeding on fishery discards or natural prey items.

Depth gauges attached to Wandering Albatrosses indicate that individuals take most prey by surface seizing and rarely submerge (Prince et al. 1994a).

Global population status

About 8,500 Wandering Albatrosses breed each year. This implies that there are currently around 28,000 mature individuals, and perhaps 55,000 birds in total (Table 2.1: reviewed in Gales 1998). The reliability of survey data for this species is generally good. All monitored populations have shown substantial decreases at some stage during the last 20 years (reviewed in Gales 1998).

Table 2.1: Breeding populations of Wandering Albatrosses
Breeding locality Annual breeding pairs Year of census Census reliability Population status
Macquarie Island + 15 1998/99 High Stable*
South Georgia
(Isla Georgia del Sur) - Bird Island - Other Islands
 
1,314
864
 
1995/96
1984
 
High
Moderate
 
Decreasing
?

Crozet Islands
- Ile de la Possession
- Ile aux Cochons
- Ile de l'Est

 
349
1,060
325
1995
1981
1982
High
?
?
Increasing*
Decreasing
Decreasing
Kerguelen Islands 1,455 1992 Moderate Increasing*
Marion Island 1,794 1995 High Increasing*
Prince Edward Island 1,277 1984 >Moderate Decreasing?

* Population is currently stable or increasing at low levels after previous population declines

Data from sources cited in Gales (1998), except + from Gales et al. (in press).

Population status within areas under Australian jurisdiction

Selkirk et al. (1990) have suggested that the population of Wandering Albatrosses on Macquarie Island may have always been small compared to large populations on other similar sized islands (for example, an estimated 2,000 pairs once bred on Marion Island with an area of 290km2). Macquarie Island may represent marginal habitat for Wandering Albatrosses because the richer continental shelf around Macquarie Island is relatively small compared to that around other sub-Antarctic islands (Selkirk et al. 1990). In recent years, breeding success of Wandering Albatrosses on Macquarie Island has averaged 56% (see 'Breeding biology' above: Gales et al. unpubl. data), which is lower than that of other Wandering Albatross populations. The mean breeding success at Bird Island (South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur)), for example is 71% where about 1,300 pairs breed annually (Croxall et al. 1998), while the mean breeding success at Possession Island (Crozet Island group) is 68.5 11.2% where 350 pairs currently breed (Weimerskirch et al. 1997a).

To the contrary, there is some circumstantial evidence to suggest that Wandering Albatrosses may have once been numerous on Macquarie Island. Seal and penguin oil harvesters occupied the island from 1810 to 1920, using the Wandering Albatrosses as a source of food (Cumpston 1968; Townrow 1988). In addition, the remains of at least 65 Wandering Albatrosses were discovered in a cave at Aurora Point during the 1949/50 ANARE field season (de la Mare and Kerry 1994). Finally, based on the known distribution of nesting sites and vegetation alliances used by Wandering Albatrosses over the past 50 years, and low nest densities on Macquarie Island, there appear to be large areas of suitable and/or previously used nesting habitat that are currently left vacant.

By the time the Australasian Antarctic Expedition surveyed Macquarie Island in 1913 only one Wandering Albatross pair was left breeding. Once harvesting ceased, the population gradually increased to 44 annual breeding pairs by 1967/68 (Carrick and Ingham 1970). However, during the 1970s the breeding population declined rapidly. By the early 1980s only five annual breeding pairs remained (de la Mare and Kerry 1994).

The tiny population has since slowly rebuilt to around ten annual breeding pairs (Table 2.2). Any significant increase in breeding numbers in the foreseeable future is considered not feasible (Gales et al. in press). This population of Wandering Albatrosses is the smallest in the world. Since the Wandering Albatross population on Macquarie Island contains less than 50 mature individuals it can be considered Critically Endangered according to IUCN (1996) criteria. That is, this population is 'a taxon that is facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future' (Baillie and Groombridge 1996: p19).

Table 2.2: Wandering Albatross population trends at Macquarie Island
Year of census Annual breeding pairs Reference
1913 1 Carrick and Ingham 1970
1967/68 44 Carrick and Ingham 1970
1974 14 Tomkins 1985
1975 16 Tomkins 1985
1976 9 Tomkins 1985
1977 7 Tomkins 1985
1978 11 Tomkins 1985
'1980s' 5 de la Mare and Kerry 1994
1984 7 Garnett 1992
1993/94 6 G. Copson pers. comm.
1994/95 9 Gales et al. in press
1995/96 10 Gales et al. in press
1996/97 11 Gales et al. in press
1997/98 9 Gales et al. in press
1998/99 15 Gales et al. in press

Johnstone (1982) recorded one pair of Wandering Albatross brooding a small chick on Heard Island in 1980. The male had been banded as a non-breeding adult on Macquarie Island in 1967. The female was not seen. Johnstone (1982) also noted the presence of two old nest mounds nearby, suggesting breeding had been attempted in previous years as well. This is the only recorded instance of Wandering Albatrosses breeding on Heard Island.

Population status outside areas under Australian jurisdiction

The populations of Wandering Albatrosses breeding on the Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Island and Prince Edward Island had all been severely reduced by the turn of the 20th Century via exploitation from sealers and whalers (Croxall et al.1984a). The Wandering Albatross population at Possession Island (Crozet Islands) has declined by more than 50% over the last 20 years but has increased steadily since 1986. The population at Kerguelen Island decreased by around 60% during the 1970s and early 1980s but has also stabilised since 1986 (Weimerskirch and Jouventin 1998). Between 1961 and 1996, Wandering Albatross populations at South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur) decreased by 28% at an annual average rate of 0.8% (Croxall et al. 1998). The Marion Island population had been decreasing at an average annual rate of 0.7% until 1992, when the population began to increase (J. Cooper pers. comm., in Gales 1998). Likewise, the Prince Edward Island population has also suffered declines (Watkins 1987).

2.2 Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris Temminick 1828

Previous name

Black-browed Albatross Diomedea melanophris

Breeding locations and jurisdictions (see Map 1)
Jurisdiction Breeding locality
Australia Heard Island, McDonald Island, Macquarie Island, Bishop and Clerk Islets
Chile Islas Diego Ramirez, Isla Ildefonso, Isla Diego de Almagra
France Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Islands
New Zealand Antipodes Islands, Campbell Island, Snares Island
Other Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur)
Protection status
Jurisdiction Protection status
International Lower risk: near threatened
CMS Appendices Listed
National EPBC act Protected
Tasmania Vulnerable
Victoria Protected
New South Wales Vulnerable
Queensland Protected
South Australia Protected
Western Australia Protected
Northern Territory Protected
Action Plan for Australian Birds
  • Australian Breeding Population
  • Population Visiting Australian Territory
Endangered Near Threatened
Australian population monitoring programs
Breeding locality Current monitoring program?
Macquarie Island Yes
Bishop and Clerk Islets No
Heard Island No
McDonald Island No

Distribution

The Black-browed Albatross is probably the most widespread of all albatrosses. It has a circumpolar distribution in the southern oceans, occurring from the Antarctic pack-ice to the equator (Marchant and Higgins 1990; Tickell 1995). There are even several dozen records of this species in European waters (Blakers et al. 1984; del Hoyo et al.1992).

From August to April most adults occur in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic shelf-waters adjacent to their breeding grounds. However, they are a migratory bird, and in April they leave their colonies for the warmer coastal or shelf waters of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and South America (Weimerskirch et al. 1985, 1986).

The over-wintering areas for the various colonies are thought to be distinct. South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur) colonies winter off Australia, New Zealand or the west coast of South Africa. Falkland Island (Islas Malvinas) birds winter off the east coast of South America. Finally, Kerguelen Island birds winter off southern Australia (Croxall et al.1998; Prince et al.1998; Weimerskirch 1998). However, the few bands returned from the Macquarie Island and Heard Island colonies are also from southern Australia (Milledge 1977), indicating that the segregation at sea is not complete.

In Australia, Black-browed Albatrosses forage along the southern coasts (sometimes entering bays and harbours) from Brisbane around to Perth. However, they are less common north of Sydney (Blakers et al. 1984; Marchant and Higgins 1990; Reid et al. in press). Sub-adults are observed in Australian waters all year round. Consequently, 99% of Black-browed Albatrosses seen in south-eastern Australian waters between October and January are immature birds (Reid et al. in press).

Breeding biology

Black-browed Albatrosses breed annually. Breeding begins between late August to mid-October depending on location, with the colonies south of the Antarctic convergence initiating breeding slightly later than their northern counterparts (Kirkwood and Mitchell 1992). Adults begin returning to Macquarie Island from September 1 (Copson 1988; Gales et al. in press), and to Heard Island before September 18 (Downes et al. 1959). Males normally begin arriving one to two weeks before the females (Tickell and Pinder 1975; Gales et al. in press).

Breeding is normally colonial with nests 1-2m apart. The same nest is normally (94%) used for several years (Tickell and Pinder 1975). Egg-laying is from September 26 to November 1 at Macquarie Island (Gales et al. in press), and from October 20 at Heard Island (Downes et al.1959). Incubation lasts for 68 days, and the hatchling is brooded for the first three weeks. The adults feed the chick almost every day until it fledges 116 days later (Gales et al. in press).

Adult Black-browed Albatrosses usually obtain food for the chick by commuting rapidly and directly to the continental shelf breaks or frontal zones adjacent to their colonies. Individuals often revisit the same areas on successive foraging sorties, signifying the predictability of their prey (Weimerskirch et al. 1986; Cherel and Weimerskirch 1995; Prince et al. 1998). The distance travelled by adults to obtain food for the chicks sometimes depends on the extent of the surrounding continental shelf. At the Crozets Wandering Albatrosses forage mainly within 40km of the islands, while at other colonies they will search for prey more than 400km away (Croxall and Prince 1987; Weimerskirch et al. 1988). However, at Macquarie Island, where the continental shelf is particularly small, satellite-tracked adults have been recorded foraging for the chick in Antarctic seas south of 60 S over 1,200km away (Gales et al. unpubl. data).

At Macquarie Island mean breeding success (measured as the total number of chicks fledged from eggs laid) from 1977-1999 averaged 61% (range = 39-86%: Copson 1988; Gales et al. in press). At Heard Island, breeding success (the number of chicks raised to at least five weeks as a percentage of total breeding pairs) was 17% in 1954/55, and 68% in 1987/88 (Downes et al. 1959; Kirkwood and Mitchell 1992). Between 1976 to 1996 at South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur), breeding success (the number of chicks fledged from eggs laid) ranged between 0-64% depending on the local availability of krill supplies (mean = 27%: Croxall et al. 1998).

Black-browed Albatrosses fledge between mid-April and mid-May at Macquarie Island (Copson 1988; Gales et al. in press) and around mid-April at Heard Island (Downes et al. 1959). Fledging at other sites also occurs in April or May (Tickell 1966; Tickell and Pinder 1975).

Black-browed Albatrosses display extremely high levels of philopatry (Copson 1988; Prince et al. 1994b). A detailed capture-recapture study at South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur) found no evidence of breeding birds moving among colonies (Prince et al. 1994b). Most immatures begin returning to their natal colony at 3-8 years of age. At Macquarie Island, birds do not commence breeding until seven or eight years of age (Copson 1988). At other sites, the age at first breeding varies from 6-13 years (Jouventin and Weimerskirch 1988; Prince et al. 1994b).

Foraging ecology

Black-browed Albatrosses have been observed taking most prey (98%; n = 232) by surface-seizing, with limited surface-plunging (2%: Harper 1987). Harper (1987) also noted that some individuals were capable of remaining submerged for almost 20 seconds in pursuit of prey. More recently, Prince et al. (1994a) attached capillary gauges to 21 Black-browed Albatrosses to record their maximum dive-depths on foraging trips. Individuals dived to a mean maximum depth of 2.5m and an overall maximum depth of 4.5m. All individuals dived to more than 1m, indicating that diving is a more common mode of capturing prey than previously realised.

Global population status

Black-browed Albatrosses are the most widely distributed of all albatross species and their population status varies with respect to colony. The current population is approximately 680,000 breeding pairs, with perhaps three million birds in total (Table 2.3: reviewed in Gales 1998).

Table 2.3: Breeding populations of Black-browed Albatrosses
Breeding locality Annual breeding pairs Year of census Census reliability Population status
Macquarie Island + 45 1998/99 High ?
Bishop and Clerk Islets 141 1993 Moderate ?
Heard Island 600-700 1987/88 Moderate ?
McDonald Island 82-89 1981 Moderate ?
Falkland Islands
(Islas Malvinas)
- Steeple Jason Island
- South Jason Island
- Elephant Jason Island
- Beauchene Island
- Bird Island
- Grand Jason Island
- West Point Island
- New Island
- North Island
- Saunders Island
- Keppel Island
- Grave Cove

 
250,826
350
600
149,363
15,000-20,000
50,000-100,000
15,400
10,500
14,625
12,505
2,085
170
 
1995/96
1983/84
1984/85
1995/96
1995/96
1986/87
1994/95
1995
1995
1992/93
1987/88
1992/93
 
High
High
High
High
Low
Low
High
High
High
High
High
High
 
Increasing
Stable
Increasing
?
?
?
Increasing
Increasing
Increasing
?
?
Increasing
South Georgia
(Isla Georgia del Sur)
- Bird Island
- Other Islands
 
9,539
86,713
 
1995
1986
 
High
High
 
Decreasing
?
Chile
- Diego Ramirez (total)*
- Islas Gonzalof
- Isla Ildefonso
- Isla Diego de Almagra
20,000
4,005
17,000
15,000
1981
1997
1985
1985
?
High
Low
Moderate
?
?
?
?
Crozet Islands 980 1981 High ?
Kerguelen Islands 3,115 1995 High Decreasing
New Zealand - Antipodes Islands
- Campbell Island
- Snares Island
~ 100
> 30
1
1992
1995
1986
Low
Low
Moderate
?
?
?

Data from sources cited in Gales (1998), except * from Schlatter (1984), + from Gales et al. (in press), f from G. Robertson pers. comm.

Population status within areas under Australian jurisdiction

The world's smallest and most vulnerable populations of Black-browed Albatross occur on the Australian and New Zealand sub-Antarctic islands.

The present status of the Macquarie Island population is difficult to assess because its history is poorly known. The records for Black-browed Albatrosses breeding on Macquarie Island are incomplete prior to 1985. Black-browed Albatrosses were first recorded breeding there in small colonies in 1949/50 (Copson 1988; Selkirk et al. 1990). It is difficult to determine if the present colonies are the tiny remnants of larger populations decimated by sealers and oil-gatherers by the early 1900s, or have re-colonised after being eradicated from the island. Alternatively, the population may have always been small, constrained by the limited continental shelf surrounding the island (Copson 1988).

Of the 120 chicks banded on Macquarie Island during the 1970s and 1980s, only four have ever returned to breed, equating to a minimum recruitment rate of only 3.3% (Copson 1988). Currently, about 40 pairs breed on Macquarie Island each year (Table 2.4: Gales et al. in press). The small colony at 'North Tussocks' on Macquarie Island began declining in numbers in the 1950s (Copson 1988), and has now disappeared entirely. No chicks have fledged there since the 1970s (Gales et al. in press). The small population size of Black-browed Albatrosses at Macquarie Island combined with the apparent extremely low rates of recruitment is cause for grave and urgent concern for the viability of its future.

In 1965 a population of Black-browed Albatrosses was discovered breeding on Bishop and Clerk Islets, 37km to the south of Macquarie Island. The population was assessed in 1993 when 141 active nests were found (Gales et al. in press). There is no information on the current status of this population.

The status of the Heard and McDonald Islands populations is also unclear due mostly to the sporadic nature of the data collection. In 1987/88 about 600-700 pairs bred on Heard Island (Kirkwood and Mitchell 1992). The most recent estimate for McDonald Island is from 1981 when 82-89 pairs were breeding (Keage and Johnstone 1983).

Table 2.4: Black-browed Albatross population trends at Macquarie Island
Breeding season Annual breeding pairs Reference
1977 14 Copson 1988
1978 27 Copson 1988
1979 19 Copson 1988
1980 21 Copson 1988
1981 22 Copson 1988
1983 21 Copson 1988
1984 15 Copson 1988
1994/95 37 Gales et al. in press
1995/96 38 Gales et al. in press
1996/97 40 Gales et al. in press
1997/98 41 Gales et al. in press
1998/99 45 Gales et al. in press

Population status outside areas under Australian jurisdiction

Black-browed Albatross populations are known to be in decline at Bird Island and Kerguelen Island, the two most intensively studied populations (Croxall et al. 1998; Weimerskirch and Jouventin 1998). The population at Bird Island has decreased by 31% since 1976, at an average rate of 1.8% per annum. Most (or all) of this decline appears to have occurred between 1989 and 1996 at an average rate of 6.9% per annum (Croxall et al. 1998). The Kerguelen population decreased in size by 30% between 1978-88, and seems to have stabilised somewhat since then (Jouventin and Weimerskirch 1991; Weimerskirch and Jouventin 1998). Populations at Chile also declined in the 1970s and 1980s (Schlatter 1984). Islas Gonzalo, one of the four islands in the Diego Ramirez Archipelago, contained 4,005 breeding pairs in 1997 (G. Robertson pers. comm.). Little is known of the albatross populations at the three other islands in the archipelago.

2.3 Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta Gould 1841

Previous names

Shy Albatross Diomedea cauta cauta

Breeding locations and jurisdiction (see Map 1)
Jurisdiction Breeding locality
Australia Albatross Island, The Mewstone, Pedra Branca

The only albatross species ENDEMIC TO AUSTRALIA

Protection status
Jurisdiction Protection status
International Lower risk: near threatened
CMS Appendices Listed
National EPBC act Vulnerable
Tasmania Vulnerable
Victoria Protected
New South Wales Vulnerable
Queensland Protected
South Australia Protected
Western Australia Vulnerable
Northern Territory Protected
Action Plan for Australian Birds Vulnerable
Australian population monitoring programs
Breeding locality Current Monitoring Program?
Albatross Island Yes
Pedra Branca Yes
The Mewstone Yes

Distribution

The recent separation of Shy Albatrosses from other closely related taxa confounds our understanding of its at-sea distribution. Shy Albatrosses appear to occur over all Australian coastal waters below 25 S. It is most commonly observed over the shelf waters around Tasmania and south-eastern Australia (Barton 1979; Blakers et al.1984; Tickell 1995; Reid et al.in press). It appears to be less pelagic than many other albatrosses, ranging well inshore over the continental shelf, even entering bays and harbours (del Hoyo et al. 1992; Reid et al.in press).

Most adult Shy Albatrosses remain in the waters off south-east Australia all year round, and seldom venture more than 600km from the breeding colony (Brothers et al. 1998; Reid et al.in press). However, juvenile, immature and some Shy Albatrosses cover much greater distances. These birds can be found in most sub-Antarctic to subtropical waters. They may also enter the tropics off South America, and have even been recorded in the Northern Hemisphere (west USA and north Red Sea; Marchant and Higgins 1990).

The broad routes of post-fledging dispersal appear to be colony specific. Young birds from Albatross Island have been found only as far west as south-west Western Australia and east to Queensland. In contrast, juveniles and immatures from the Mewstone have been recovered off both South Africa and New Zealand. A first year Shy Albatross from the Mewstone has also been recorded off Tasmania (Brothers et al. 1997). Satellite-transmitters attached to adult Shy Albatrosses from the Pedra Branca colony have revealed that post-breeding birds usually forage over the continental shelf from the south-east of Tasmania to the south-east of Victoria (Brothers et al. 1998). None of the immature birds banded at Pedra Branca have ever been recovered away from the colony (Brothers et al. 1997). Thus, little information exists regarding juvenile dispersal from Pedra Branca.

Breeding biology

Shy Albatrosses have an annual breeding cycle lasting about eight months, from September until April. The birds breed in colonies. Mean nest densities are 1-2 nests per m2, with some nests being only 30cm apart (Brothers 1979a; N. Brothers unpubl. data).

Most eggs are laid in September or early October. Breeding is asynchronous among colonies, with the mean egg-laying date at Pedra Branca (and probably the Mewstone) being about 1-2 weeks later than on Albatross Island. The egg is incubated for about ten weeks. The chick hatches in December and is brooded for a further three weeks (Johnstone et al. 1975; N. Brother unpubl. data).

Satellite telemetry has recently been used to determine the foraging areas of breeding Shy Albatrosses from Albatross Island and Pedra Branca (Brothers et al.1998). During incubation birds from Albatross Island foraged off north-west Tasmania in an area encompassing 27,700km2 of ocean, predominantly in water less than 200m deep. Incubating birds from Pedra Branca tended to forage over a smaller area (9,500km2) towards the east or south-east edge of the continental shelf. The maximum foraging range of any breeding bird was 265km from its colony (Brothers et al. 1998).

Breeding success at Albatross Island varies from 20-50%. The lower figures are partly due to an avian pox virus that causes chick mortality (N. Brothers pers. comm., in Gales 1993). If successful, the chick fledges in April at about 4.5 months old. Immature birds begin returning to the natal colony after at least three years at sea. They become fairly sedentary once they reach 4-5 years of age. After a minimum of 5-6 years, most Shy Albatrosses have paired and begin breeding annually (N. Brothers unpubl. data).

Foraging ecology

Most observations of Shy Albatrosses feeding at sea have, till recently, been of birds seizing dead or moribund prey at the surface, taking fish from surface schools while flying, or occasionally making shallow dives or surface plunges (Barton 1979; Harper et al.1985; Croxall and Prince 1994). However, recently Hedd and co-workers(1998) used time-depth recorders and maximum depth gauges attached to adult Shy Albatrosses to demonstrate that this species routinely penetrates the water surface to take prey. The majority of plunge-dives were to within 3m of the surface, lasting less than six seconds. However, Shy Albatrosses also actively swam underwater for up to 19 seconds to a depth of 7.4m. Nine of the 15 birds monitored in the study dived below 5m indicating that it is a standard foraging strategy used by this species. Diving only occurred between 07:00 and 22:00 hours. The deepest dives occurred between 10:00-12:00 hrs (Hedd et al.1998).

The diet of Shy Albatrosses at Albatross Island has recently been examined. Between 1995-1998, the food samples delivered to chicks by their parents were mostly fish (89% by wet mass) and cephalopods (10% by wet mass), with small amounts of tunicates and crustaceans (Hedd and Gales, in press). Prey selection appeared to be relatively constant across seasons and years. Most (80%) of the fish delivered by adults to chicks were pelagic schooling Jack Mackerel Trachurus declivus and Redbait Emmelichthys nitidus, while 84% of the cephalopods were Gould's Squid Nototodarus gouldi. Thus, there is considerable evidence to indicate that Shy Albatrosses capture most of their prey live during the day, from on or just below the surface (Hedd and Gales, in press).

Shy Albatrosses usually forage singly or in flocks of up to 20 birds (Barton 1979). However, they will also aggregate behind fishing vessels into flocks of over 100 birds (T. Reid pers. comm.) where they are usually able to out-compete all smaller Procellariiformes (that is, all but the Wandering, Tristan, Antipodean, Gibson's and Royal Albatrosses: Brothers 1991).

Global population status

The Shy Albatross is the only albatross species endemic to Australia. That is, breeding colonies exist only within areas of Australian jurisdiction. The total breeding population is currently around 12,200 breeding pairs (Table 2.5: Brothers et al. 1997). Gales (1998) estimates that approximately 55,000-60,000 individuals currently exist.

Table 2.5: Breeding populations of Shy Albatrosses
Breeding locality Annual breeding pairs Year of census Census reliability Population status
Albatross Island 5,000 1995 Moderate Increasing
The Mewstone 7,000 1995 Moderate ?
Pedra Branca 200 1995 Moderate ?

? Population status is unknown due to a lack of recent or consistent population censuses

Data from Brothers et al. (1997)

Population status within areas under Australian jurisdiction

The first European sighting of the Shy Albatross colony on Albatross Island was by George Bass in 1798, when about 20,000 breeding pairs where thought to have nested on the island annually. By 1909, however, plume and egg hunters had decimated the colony to only 250-300 nests (Green 1974; Johnstone et al.1975). Population surveys taken since then indicate that the population is staging a recovery (Table 2.6). However, the current population at Albatross Island still constitutes only 25% of the original population size.

The colonial histories of the Mewstone and Pedra Branca have not been well documented. Due to the difficulties of surveying nesting seabirds on these islands, early estimates are perhaps unreliable, and hence the status of these populations remain unknown (Table 2.7). The Pedra Branca population remains critically low, but may have always been very small (Table 2.8).

Table 2.6: Shy Albatross population trend at Albatross Island
Year of census Breeding pairs Reference
<1798 ~20,000 Johnstone et al.1975
1894 400 Green 1974
1909 250-300 Green 1974
1960 670 Green 1974
1973 1,505 Green 1974
1983 2,000 N. Brothers pers. comm., in Blakers et al. 1984
1991 3,000 N. Brothers pers. comm., in Gales 1993
1995 5,000 Brothers et al. 1997
Table 2.7: Shy Albatross population trend at the Mewstone
Year Breeding pairs Reference
1977 1,500-2,000 Brothers 1979a
1991 4,500 N. Brothers pers. comm., in Gales 1993
1995 7,000 Brothers et al. 1997
Table 2.8: Shy Albatross population trend at Pedra Branca
Year Breeding pairs Reference
1978 100 Brothers 1979b
1991 250 N. Brothers pers. comm., in Gales 1993
1995 200 Brothers et al. 1997

Population status outside areas under Australian jurisdiction

No Shy Albatrosses breed outside of the AFZ, however, they do disperse to areas outside of the AFZ.

2.4 Grey-headed Albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma Forster 1785

Previous name

Grey-headed Albatross Diomedea chrysostoma

Breeding locations and jurisdictions (see Map 1)
Jurisdiction Breeding locality
Australia Macquarie Island
Chile Islas Diego Ramirez, Isla Ildefonso
France Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Islands
New Zealand Campbell Island
South Africa Marion Island, Prince Edward Island
Other South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur)
Protection status
Jurisdiction Protection status
International Vulnerable
CMS Appendices Listed
National EPBC act Vulnerable
Tasmania Vulnerable
Victoria Protected
New South Wales Protected
Queensland Protected
South Australia Protected
Western Australia Vulnerable
Northern Territory Protected
Action Plan for Australian Birds
  • Australian Breeding Population
  • Population Visiting Australian Territory
Endangered Vulnerable
Australian population monitoring programs
Breeding locality Current Monitoring Program?
Macquarie Island Yes

Distribution

The Grey-headed Albatross is a bird of the open oceans, occupying a circumpolar pelagic range. During the nesting period breeding adults will travel hundreds or thousands of kilometres from the colony (generally to the south) in order to obtain food for their offspring (Weimerskirch et al. 1988; Prince et al.1998).

Non-breeding adults and immature birds disperse widely over the Southern Ocean, but mostly between 65 S and 35 S (del Hoyo et al. 1992). In summer, they are found in sub-Antarctic and Antarctic seas between 46 S and 64 S, avoiding pack ice. Most leave the Antarctic Zone in winter for the warmer seas between 39 S and 51 S. Some also follow the Humboldt Current north to 15 S in western South America (Marchant and Higgins 1990).

It is a regular visitor to Australia and New Zealand, especially in winter. It is seen at sea with some frequency south and west of Tasmania, occasionally in Victorian waters, rarely in South Australia and western Australia, and only as a very rare vagrant in New South Wales. It has only been recorded once in Queensland (Blakers et al. 1984; Reid et al.in press).

Breeding biology

Grey-headed Albatrosses typically are biennial breeders. However, this depends somewhat on the breeding success of the previous year, as failed breeders tend to re-nest in the following year (Hector et al. 1986; Prince et al. 1994b).

Adults return to the breeding grounds from early September to early October. Older, more experienced birds often return before younger breeders (Tickell and Pinder 1975; Weimerskirch et al. 1986). At Macquarie Island Grey-headed Albatrosses return after September 12 (Copson 1988), signalling the beginning of a breeding season that lasts for 10-11 months. Pairs build their nests about 1-2m apart in dispersed colonies. The egg is laid between October 6 and October 28. The 72 day incubation period is shared by both adults in shifts averaging 5-15 days. Hatchlings emerge from December 12 to January 19 to be brooded almost constantly for 18-28 days (Tickell and Pinder 1975; Prince et al. 1994b).

Breeding adults travel enormous distances in search of prey for the chick. The maximum foraging ranges of Grey-headed Albatrosses breeding on Bird Island (South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur)) have been recorded to be 500-800km (Prince and Francis 1984; Rodhouse et al. 1990). At Prince Edward Island Grey-headed Albatrosses have been observed foraging 350km from the nest (Hunter and Klages 1989), while at the Crozet-Kerguelen area they have been observed foraging some 1,850km from their nests (Weimerskirch et al. 1986, 1988).

The offspring achieve independence after 141-152 days, fledging between late April and mid-June, depending on breeding locality (Tickell and Pinder 1975; Prince et al. 1994b). At Macquarie Island all juveniles and adults have departed the breeding grounds by late May (Copson 1988). Breeding success at Macquarie Island averages 67% (range = 52-86%: Copson 1988; Gales et al. in press), which on average is slightly higher than other well documented colonies (eg. South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur) mean = 39%; range = 5-60%: Prince et al.1994b; Croxall et al. 1998).

Grey-headed Albatrosses banded as chicks at Macquarie Island began to breed after 7-10 years (Copson 1988). The modal age at first breeding is 12 years at South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur) (n = 52: Prince et al. 1994b). Once established the bird will breed for many years. No breeding bird has ever been observed to move between colonies (Copson 1988; Prince et al. 1994b).

Foraging ecology

Grey-headed Albatrosses generally forage far from the shelf waters around their breeding grounds (Weimerskirch et al. 1986, 1988). It has been inferred from time budget studies that they are nocturnal feeders (Prince and Francis 1984). However, there is little observational evidence to support this. To the contrary, Weimerskirch et al. (1986) suggested that this species may also feed during the day.

Earlier reports that this species is less inclined to follow ships than other albatrosses have since been refuted (Reid et al. 1996). In fact flocks of up to several hundred Grey-headed Albatrosses have been sighted actively scavenging behind fishing vessels (Jehl et al. 1979, in Marchant and Higgins 1990; Brothers 1991; Duhamel et al. 1997).

Most prey is taken by surface-seizing (Wood 1992). Recently Prince et al. (1994a) discovered that Grey-headed Albatrosses can also dive to at least 6m below the surface, and swim underwater for up to 11 seconds, in search of prey.

Global population status

The global breeding population of Grey-headed Albatrosses is estimated to be 92,300 pairs per year (Table 2.9). This corresponds roughly to 250,000 mature individuals, or 600,000 individuals in total (reviewed in Gales 1998). The species' global conservation status of Near Threatened in 1994 (Collar et al. 1994) has recently declined to Vulnerable (Croxall and Gales 1998).

Table 2.9: Breeding populations of Grey-headed Albatrosses
Breeding locality Annual breeding pairs Year of census Census reliability Population status
Macquarie Island + 78 1998/99 High ?
South Georgia
(Isla Georgia del Sur)
- Bird Island
- Other Islands
 
6,500
47,718
 
1993-95
1985-86
 
High
High
 
Decreasing
?
Chile
- Diego Ramirez (total)
- Islas Gonzalof
- Isla Ildefonso
10,000
3,130
~ 10
1981
1997
1984
?
High
Moderate
?
?
?
Kerguelen Islands 7,900 1984-87 ? ?
Crozet Islands 5,946 1980-82 ? ?
Marion Island 6,217 1995 High Increasing*
Prince Edward Island 1,500 1979 Low ?
Campbell Island ~ 6,400 1995 Moderate Decreasing

? Population status is unknown due to a lack of recent or consistent population censuses

* Population is currently increasing at low levels after previous population declines

Data from sources cited in Gales (1998), except + from Gales et al. (in press), f G. Robertson pers. comm.

Population status within areas under Australian jurisdiction

Currently, only about 80 pairs of Grey-headed Albatrosses breed on Macquarie Island (Table 2.10). The records for Grey-headed Albatrosses on Macquarie Island prior to 1985 are incomplete and based upon casual estimates only. However, the population appears to have remained fairly stable since 1912 when roughly 40 nests were found on the island (Falla 1937).

Table 2.10: Grey-headed Albatross population estimates at Macquarie Island
Breeding season Annual breeding pairs Reference
1912 > 40 Falla 1937
1954 < 60 Copson 1988
1977 28 Copson 1988
1978 2829 Copson 1988
1979 30 Copson 1988
1980 29 Copson 1988
1981 44 Copson 1988
1983 31 Copson 1988
1984 51 Copson 1988
1994/95 67 Gales et al. in press
1995/96 83 Gales et al. in press
1996/97 72 Gales et al. in press
1997/98 66 Gales et al. in press
1998/99 78 Gales et al. in press

Population status outside areas under Australian jurisdiction

The recruitment rate of immature birds at Bird Island (South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur)) has declined drastically from 35% to 5% over the last two decades. Adult survival has also decreased, from 95% to 93%. As a result, the population has declined. The most thoroughly monitored colony declined by 30% at an average annual rate of 1.9% (Prince et al. 1994a; Croxall et al.1998). This decline is particularly alarming as the South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur) population represents nearly 60% of the global total.

In addition, over the last fifty years albatross colonies at Campbell Island (in which Grey-headed Albatrosses predominate) have decreased by 79-85% (Moore 1995). About 10,000 pairs bred at Islas Diego Ramirez off Chile in 1981, but these populations were thought to be decreasing annually (Schlatter 1984). Only one of the four islands in the Diego Ramirez Archipelago, Islas Gonzalo, has been recently surveyed. In 1997, 3,130 pairs nested on the island (G. Robertson pers. comm.).

The only population increase recorded for this species has occurred at Marion Island since 1992. This population, which represents 7% of the global population, had previously been decreasing at 0.7% per annum since the 1970s (J. Cooper pers. comm., in Gales 1998).

2.5 Light-mantled Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata Forster 1785

Previous name

Light-mantled Sooty Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata

Breeding locations and jurisdictions (see Map 1)
Jurisdiction Breeding locality
Australia Heard Island, Macquarie Island, McDonald Islands?
France Crozet Island, Kerguelen Island
New Zealand Antipodes Island, Auckland Island, Campbell Island
South Africa Marion Island, Prince Edward Island
Other South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur)
Protection status
Jurisdiction Protection status
International Lower Risk: Near Threatened
CMS Appendices Listed
National EPBC act Not listed
Tasmania Vulnerable
Victoria Threatened
New South Wales Protected
Queensland Protected
South Australia Protected
Western Australia Protected
Northern Territory Protected
Action Plan for Australian Birds
  • Australian Breeding Population
  • Population Visiting Australian Territory
Vulnerable
Vulnerable
Australian population monitoring programs
Breeding locality Current Monitoring Program?
Macquarie Island Yes
Heard Island No
McDonald Island? No

Distribution

Light-mantled Albatrosses have a wide, circumpolar range throughout the Southern Ocean. They are highly dispersive over pelagic waters, though little is known of their exact movements at sea. They have the most southerly distribution of any albatross, ranging the temperate waters south of 35 S to the pack-ice around 78 S. Many traverse northwards with the Humboldt Current along the coast of Chile and Peru to 20 S (Marchant and Higgins 1990).

Light-mantled Albatrosses are regular visitors to the pelagic waters of south and south-east Australia, especially in winter. They are commonly seen over open waters south and west of Tasmania. Many of the birds seen in mainland waters are breeding adults foraging on behalf of their offspring (Marchant and Higgins 1990; Reid et al. in press).

Breeding biology

Breeding by Light-mantled Albatrosses is biennial or triennial, with 75% of successful pairs returning to breed every third year. Even unsuccessful pairs usually (60%) breed only after two years (Jouventin and Weimerskirch 1988).

Adults return to their breeding grounds in early September to mid-October (Weimerskirch et al.1986; Croxall and Prince 1987), though few arrive at Macquarie Island and Heard Island before October (Gales et al. in press). Unlike most albatrosses, the Light-mantled Albatross typically breeds as dispersed pairs or otherwise in small colonies to a maximum of 15 pairs.

At Macquarie Island, females lay between October 20 and November 10. The egg is incubated for 63-67 days, hatching in late December to January 15 (Gales et al. in press). Breeding adults forage great distances in support of the chick. Five Light-mantled Albatrosses breeding at Macquarie Island have been tracked with satellite transmitters during the incubation period. Adults were found to forage up to 2,200km from their nest (Weimerskirch and Robertson 1994). Young fledge in mid-May to mid-June at 141 days of age (Berruti 1979; Weimerskirch et al. 1986).

Between 1994 and 1999 mean breeding success at Macquarie Island was 52% (range = 43-57%: Gales et al. in press). Mean breeding success at Possession Island is 35%, ranging from almost 0% to 78% (Weimerskirch and Jouventin 1998). Based on work at the Crozet Islands, Light-mantled Albatrosses fledge a chick, on average, every five years. Consequently, this species has one of the lowest reproduction rates for any species of albatross (Weimerskirch et al. 1987).

Adults and fledglings depart the breeding grounds from late April to late June (Weimerskirch et al. 1986). At Macquarie Island the exodus occurs between mid-May and early June (Gales et al. in press). The majority of adults leave Heard Island between 13-17 May (Downes et al. 1959). The young are extremely philopatric, and after roaming the seas for 7-12 years, return to their natal breeding grounds as adults (Weimerskirch et al. 1987). One bird banded as a chick at Macquarie Island has been observed breeding as a seven year old (Kerry and Garland 1984). The minimum recruitment rate at Macquarie Island is extremely low. Of the 600 birds banded as chicks in the 1970s and 1980s, less than 20 (<3.3%) have returned to breed on the island (K. Kerry pers. comm., in Gales 1993).

Foraging ecology

It is still uncertain as to when Light-mantled Albatrosses forage. Some workers have suggested it is diurnal (eg. Harper 1987), whereas others contend that it is crepuscular or nocturnal (Weimerskirch et al. 1986).

Light-mantled Albatrosses are commonly assumed to capture all prey while swimming on the surface (eg. Harper et al. 1985). However, recently their diving capabilities were measured using maximum depth gauges. It is now known that individuals plunge to a mean maximum depth of almost 5m, and some individuals dive to more than 12m below the surface in pursuit of prey (Prince et al. 1994a).

Global population status

An estimated 21,600 pairs of Light-mantled Albatrosses breed each year, approximating 140,000 individuals in total. Pairs breed on 14 separate islands, but accurate population estimates are available for only two localities, Possession Island and Macquarie Island, each of which comprises about 5% of the estimated global population. Few colonies have been surveyed in the last ten years. At least five of the islands have less than 200 annual breeding pairs, and only three contain more than 3,000 breeding pairs (Table 2.11: reviewed in Gales 1998).

Table 2.11: Breeding populations of Light-mantled Albatrosses
Breeding locality Annual breeding pairs Year of census Census reliability Population status
Macquarie Island 1,000-1,150 1994/95 High ?
Heard Island 200-500 1954 Low ?
McDonald Islands Suspected ? Low ?
South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur) 5,000-7,500 ? ? ?
Prince Edward Island 40 1983-90 Low ?
Marion Island 201 1987 Moderate ?
Kerguelen Islands 3,000-5,000 1984-87 ? ?
Crozet Islands
- Ile de la Possession
- Ile de l'Est
- Ile aux Cochons
- Ile des Pingouins
- Ile des Apotres
996
> 900
50-100
30
150
1995
1981-95
1981-82
1981-82
1981-82
Low
?
?
?
?
Decreasing
?
?
?
?
New Zealand
- Auckland Islands
- Campbell Island
- Antipodes Islands
~ 5,000
> 1,500
< 1,000
1972-73
1995
1969
Low
Low
Low
?
?
?

? Population status is unknown due to a lack of recent or consistent population censuses

Data from sources cited in Gales (1998)

Population status within areas under Australian jurisdiction

The original size of the Light-mantled Albatross populations breeding at Macquarie Island and Heard Island are unknown. Sealers occupied both islands during the 19th Century. It is likely that Light-mantled Albatrosses were exploited during this period of occupation, however the extent of this mortality is not known.

In 1992/93, 1,000-1,150 pairs were observed breeding on Macquarie Island (Gales et al. in press). The population breeding at Heard Island has not been systematically surveyed since 1954. At that time between 200-500 pairs were estimated to breed annually (Downes et al. 1959).

Population status outside areas under Australian jurisdiction

The largest breeding population of Light-mantled Albatrosses is at South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur), containing 5,000-7,500 pairs (Thomas et al.1983; P.A. Prince pers. comm., in Gales 1993). The only information on breeding population trends and status pertains to the small population on Possession Island (Crozet Islands) which decreased by 1.7% per annum between 1966 and 1995 (Weimerskirch and Jouventin 1998).

2.6 Northern Giant-Petrel Macronectes halli Mathews 1912

Breeding locations and jurisdictions (see Map 1)
Jurisdiction Breeding locality
Australia Macquarie Island
France Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Islands
New Zealand Antipodes Islands, Auckland Island, Campbell Islands, Chatham Island
South Africa Marion Island, Prince Edward Island
Other South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur)
Protection status
Jurisdiction Protection status
International Lower risk - near threatened
CMS Appendices Listed
National EPBC act Not listed
Tasmania Nominated for listing as Vulnerable
Victoria Nominated for listing
New South Wales Protected
Queensland Protected
South Australia Protected
Western Australia Protected
Western Australia Protected
Action Plan for Australian Birds
  • Australian Breeding Population
  • Population Visiting Australian Territory
Vulnerable
Near Threatened
Australian population monitoring programs
Breeding locality Current Monitoring Program?
Macquarie Island Yes

Distribution

The pelagic range of Northern Giant-Petrels is widespread throughout the southern oceans, mainly north of the Antarctic Convergence. In summer they occur predominantly in sub-Antarctic to Antarctic waters, usually between 40-64 S in open oceans. Their range extends into subtropical waters (to 28 S) in the winter and early spring. Individuals banded on Macquarie Island have been recovered in South Africa, South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur), Chile, Argentina, Fiji and New Zealand. Banded Northern Giant-Petrels from Macquarie Island are frequently observed in Australian waters (particularly along the southern coast) throughout the colder months, the majority of which (94%) are pre-breeding birds (Marchant and Higgins 1990; Reid et al. in press).

Breeding biology

This species is similar to the Southern Giant-Petrel. In fact it was not identified as a separate species until the 1960s, when a detailed study of the breeding biology of the giant-petrels uncovered that there were actually two distinct species breeding side by side on Macquarie Island (Bourne and Warham 1966). Unlike Southern Giant-Petrels, Northern Giant-Petrels seldom breed in colonies but rather as dispersed pairs. The nests are built in secluded, coastal sites, and sheltered by heavy vegetation (Burger 1978).

Northern Giant-Petrels breed annually (Voisin 1988). Breeding pairs establish their nest sites in August. The egg is laid between August and October, and hatches 60 days later (Burger 1978; Johnstone 1978). At Macquarie Island, eggs are laid from October 10 to October 27, and hatch from December 15 to January 2 (Gales et al. in press). Breeding adults have not been tracked via satellite, so caution should be given to the estimate that adults forage for the chicks only within 180km of the nest (Croxall and Prince 1987).

Breeding success varies from 25-75% between sites. At Macquarie Island, mean breeding success for 1994-99 is approximately 66% (range = 53-72%: Gales et al. in press). A successful nest attempt sees the chick fledging at around 108 days of age, leaving for sea in late February to late April (Gales et al. in press). The young birds then disperse widely and rapidly. Fledglings banded at Macquarie Island have been recorded in New Zealand, South America and South Africa only ten weeks later (Woehler and Johnstone 1988). Likewise, birds banded at South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur) have arrived at Australia soon afterwards (Hunter 1984a, in Marchant and Higgins 1990).

The birds become reproductively mature around six years of age. However, most Northern Giant-Petrels do not commence breeding until they have reached 9-11 years of age. Adult Northern Giant-Petrels tend to be more sedentary than adult Southern Giant-Petrels (Voisin 1988).

Foraging ecology

There are marked differences in diet between the sexes of Northern Giant-Petrels. Females obtain most of their prey from the sea, while males will also scavenge from the carcasses of penguins and seals (Hunter 1987).

At sea, both sexes are aggressive opportunists. Most prey is taken via surface-seizing, but they are also capable of surface-diving and pursuit-plunging down to about 2m, and have been observed swimming under water with their feet in pursuit of prey (Harper et al. 1985; Harper 1987). They are thought to be predominantly diurnal feeders (Brook and Prince 1991).

Global population status

The global breeding population of Northern Giant-Petrels is probably around 10,700 breeding pairs (Table 2.12: Patterson et al. in press; Wiltshire and Schofield in press; Gales et al. in press; S. Hamilton pers. comm.). This total suggests an increase of 25% (1.7% per annum) since the last published estimate (8,600 pairs: Hunter 1985). However, this figure is of low accuracy only, as less than half of the breeding populations have been surveyed within the last 15 years.

Northern Giant-Petrels breed at several localities, ten of which had less than 500 annual breeding pairs, and none had more than 2,200 pairs at last census (Table 2.12).

Table 2.12: Breeding populations of Northern Giant-Petrels
Breeding locality Annual breeding pairs Year of census Census reliability Population status
Macquarie Island 1,485+ 1998/99 High Stable?
Prince Edward Island 180 1990 High ?
Marion Island 453 1997 High Increasing
>Crozet Islands
- Ile aux Cochons
- Ile des Pingouins
- Ile de L'est
- Ile des Apotres
- Ile de la Possession
250
165
190
150
306
1981
1981
1981
1981
1994
High
High
High
High
High
?
?
?
?
Decreasing
Kerguelen Islands 1,400 1985 Moderate ?
South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur)
- Bird Island
- Other Islands
 
2,062
1,495
 
1995
1978
 
High
Moderate
 
Increasing
?
New Zealand Islands
- Antipodes Islands
- Auckland Island
- Chatham Island
- Campbell Island
131f
100
2,150
234*
2000
1972
< 1986
1997
High
Moderate
Moderate
High
?
?
?
?

? Population status is unknown due to a lack of recent or consistent population censuses

Data from sources sited in Patterson et al. (in press), except + from Gales et al. (in press), * from Wiltshire and Schofield (in press), f from S. Hamilton pers. comm.

Population status within areas under Australian jurisdiction

The original population size of Northern Giant-Petrels breeding on Macquarie Island is unknown. It is likely that many individuals were harvested for food by sealers throughout the 19th Century. At present, about 1,500 pairs breed annually on Macquarie Island (Gales et al. in press). Around 1,000 pairs were estimated to be breeding on Macquarie Island in 1970/71 (Johnstone 1977).

Population status outside areas under Australian jurisdiction

There are few recent data on the size of Northern Giant-Petrel populations breeding on islands that are not under Australian jurisdiction. Breeding populations on the Crozet Islands and South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur) had been steadily increasing between 1966 and 1980, possibly due to local recoveries in seal numbers which supplement the diet of male Northern Giant-Petrels (Voisin 1988). The very small Campbell Island population had been in decline for some years (Robertson and Bell 1984) but may have recovered slightly in recent times (Wiltshire and Schofield in press).

2.7 Southern Giant-Petrel Macronectes giganteus Gmelin 1789

Breeding locations and jurisdictions (see Map 1)

Jurisdiction Current breeding locations
Australia Macquarie Island, Heard Island, McDonald Island,
Australian Antarctic Territory
Antarctica Antarctic Peninsula, Anvers Island, Elephant Island, Greenwich Island,
King George Island, Livingston Island, Nelson Island, Robert Island,
Seal Island, South Orkney Islands
Argentina Isla de los Estados, Isla Observatorio
Chile Islas Diego Ramirez, Isla Noir
France Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Islands
South Africa Prince Edward Island, Marion Island
United Kingdom Gough Island
Other Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur),
South Sandwich Islands (Islas Sandwich del Sur)
Jurisdiction Former Breeding Locations - Now Extinct
United Kingdom Tristan da Cunha Island
Norway Bouvet Island
Protection status
Jurisdiction Protection status
International Vulnerable
CMS Appendices Listed
national EPBC act Not listed
Tasmania Nominated for listing as Vulnerable
Victoria Nominated for listing
New South Wales Protected
Queensland Protected
South Australia Protected
Western Australia Protected
Northern Territory Protected
Action Plan for Australian Birds
  • Australian Breeding Population
  • Population Visiting Australian Territory
Endangered
Vulnerable
Australian population monitoring programs
Breeding locality Current Monitoring Program?
Macquarie Island Yes
Heard Island No
McDonald Island No
Australian Antarctic Territory Opportunistic

Distribution

Southern Giant-Petrels range widely throughout the southern oceans. In summer they occur predominantly in sub-Antarctic to Antarctic waters, usually below 60 S in the South Pacific and south-east Indian Oceans, or 53 S in the Heard Island and Macquarie Island regions. Some adults are mainly sedentary, remaining close to their breeding islands throughout the year. Nonetheless, numbers diminish at all sites over winter - the Antarctic colonies being completely abandoned. Throughout the colder months, the immatures and most adults disperse widely. The dispersal is circumpolar, extending north from 50 S to the Tropic of Capricorn and sometimes beyond. Thus, in winter they are rare in the southern waters of the Indian Ocean, and more common off South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The waters off south-east Australia may be particularly important wintering grounds (Marchant and Higgins 1990). Most (84%) Southern Giant-Petrels sighted off south-east Australia are immature birds (Reid et al. in press).

Breeding biology

Southern Giant-Petrels breed annually. The pairs return to their breeding sites in August and September, forming dispersed colonies of ten to 300 pairs. The large nests of Southern Giant-Petrels are normally built in exposed areas of open vegetation (Voisin 1988). On Macquarie Island nests are normally about 3m apart (Warham 1962, in Marchant and Higgins 1990).

The egg is usually laid in September-October, hatching 59 days later (Burger 1978; Johnstone 1978). At Macquarie Island, however, the egg is typically laid earlier, between August 20 to September 6. Hatching occurs from October 25 to November 12 (Gales et al. in press). The chick is brooded constantly in shifts for the first 18 days (Voisin 1988).

The mean foraging range of breeding adults may vary markedly. Adults were observed foraging 30km from their colony at Hawker Island in the Australian Antarctic Territory (Green 1986), 190km from South Georgia (Isla Georgia del Sur) (Croxall and Prince 1987), and 470km from Palmer Island (Obst 1985). One satellite-tracked adult from a breeding colony on the Antarctic Peninsula was recorded foraging in the South Pacific Ocean over 2,000km away (Parmelee et al. 1985, in Marchant and Higgins 1990). It is not known if this individual subsequently returned to the nest.

Breeding success ranges from 34-69%. At Macquarie Island, mean breeding success between 1994-1999 was 46% (range = 35-55%). If successful, the chick fledges between late January and late March at 115 days of age (Gales et al. in press). The young giant-petrels then disperse for several years. Birds banded as chicks on Heard Island and the AAT have been recorded up to 12,500km away off South America, and off Fiji, Tahiti, Easter Island and New Zealand (Downes et al. 1959; Orton 1963, in Marchant and Higgins 1990; Parmelee and Parmelee 1987, in Marchant and Higgins 1990; Woehler and Johnstone 1988). At 6-7 years of age the birds return to their natal colony as reproductive adults (Voisin 1988).

Foraging ecology

On land, Southern Giant-Petrels (especially the males) scavenge mainly for seal or penguin carrion. At sea, cephalopods and fish are primarily taken by surface seizing. Southern Giant-Petrels will only very occasionally dive to shallow depths to capture prey (Harper 1987).

Global population status

The global breeding population of Southern Giant-Petrels has been recently calculated as around 31,300 annual breeding pairs (Table 2.13: Kirkwood et al. 1995; Patterson et al. in press; Gales et al. in press). This figure represents a decrease of 17.6% (1.2% per annum) since the last published estimate (38,000 pairs: Hunter 1985). However, this figure is of low reliability only, as many populations have not been censused within the last 15 years.

Thirty populations contain 500 or fewer annual breeding pairs. Fifteen of these localities have 50 or fewer breeding pairs. These populations are of a critically low size and hence are in danger of extinction. Many of the breeding populations have suffered serious declines whereas only two populations have demonstrated recent increases (Table 2.13: Patterson et al. in press). Southern Giant-Petrels have been extirpated from at least two islands (Bouvet Island and Tristan da Cunha Island), and they no longer breed around Signy Island Base.

Table 2.13: Breeding populations of Southern Giant-Petrels
Breeding locality Annual breeding pairs Year of census Census reliability Population status
Macquarie Island 2,293+ 1998/99 High Decreasing
Heard Island 3,154f 1987/88 Moderate ?
McDonald Island 1,400 1979 Moderate ?
AAT
- Giganteus Island
- Hawker Island
- Frazier Islands (total)

- Dewart Island
- Charlton Island
- Nelly Island
2
18
174
106
14
73
1993
1989
1990
1989
1989
1989
High
High
High
High
High
High
Decreasing?
Decreasing?
Increasing*
?
?
Antarctic Peninsula 690 < 1997 Moderate ?
Anvers Island 634 < 1997 Moderate ?
Livingston Island 366 < 1994 Moderate ?
Greenwich Island 41 1966 High ?
Robert Island 286 < 1986 High ?
Nelson Island 912 < 1995 High ?
King George Island 3,592 < 1995 Moderate ?
Elephant Island 845 1971 Moderate ?
Seal Island 25 1971 High ?
South Orkney Islands
- Signy Island
- Laurie Island
3,036
398
< 1988
< 1995
Low-Mod
Moderate
?
?
South Sandwich Islands
(Islas Sandwich del Sur)
1,551 1996 ? ?
Bouvet island 0 1989 High Extinct
Crozet Islands
- Ile aux Cochons
- Ile des Pingouin
- Ile de L'est
- Ile des Apotres
- Ile de la Possession
575
50
323
10
105
1981
1981
1981
1981
1994
Moderate
High
High
High
High
?
?
?
?
?
Kerguelen Islands 4 1985 High ?
Marion Island 2,026 1997 High Decreasing
Prince Edward Island 410 1990 High ?
Falkland Islands
(Islas Malvinas)
3,122 1994 Moderate ?
South Georgia
(Isla Georgia del Sur)
- Bird Island
- Albatross Island
- South Georgiav
- Salisbury Plain
 
521
150
5,500
3,550
 
1995
1976
1978
1976
 
High
High
Low
Low
 
?
?
?
?
Isla Noir 200 ? Low ?
Isla Diego Ramirez 60 ? Low ?
Isla Gran Robredo 695 1992 High Increasing
Isla Arce 155 1993 High ?
Isla Observatorio 181 1995 High ?
Isla de los Estados 30 1971 Moderate ?
Gough Island 49 1979 High ?
Tristan da Cunha 0 < 1870 High Extinct

? Population status is unknown due to a lack of recent or consistent population censuses

* Population is currently increasing at low levels after previous population declines

Data from Patterson et al. (in press) except f from Kirkwood et al. (1995), + from Gales et al. (in press).

Population status within areas under Australian jurisdiction

Southern Giant-Petrels have fared poorly in Australian waters. Breeding populations have decreased at all five breeding localities (Table 2.14), including all three localities in the AAT (Giganteus Island, Hawker Island and the Frazier Islands). The breeding population on Giganteus Island in the Rookery Islands decreased from 24 nests in 1956 to only two nests in 1993. The tiny population has not been surveyed since. The population at Hawker Island decreased from 90 nests to only 21 nests between 1970 and 1983 (Woehler et al. 1990). The population decreased further to only 18 nests by 1989 (Patterson et al. in press). In the late 1950s around 250 pairs bred each year on the Frazier Islands but by the early 1980s the population had been reduced to 70 pairs. This population may have undergone something of a recovery, increasing to 174 breeding pairs by 1990 (Woehler and Johnstone 1991; Woehler 1993). There are no published accounts of the recent size of this population.

The population on Heard Island diminished from 5,250 pairs in the early 1950s to 3,154 pairs in 1987/88 (Kirkwood et al. 1995). Likewise, preliminary analysis of the available data on Southern Giant-Petrels on Macquarie Island indicates that this population may have declined by almost half over the last two decades. An estimated 4,000 pairs bred at Macquarie Island in 1970/71 (Johnstone 1977). However, in 1999 about 2,300 breeding pairs remained (Gales et al. in press).

Table 2.14: Comparison of population estimates of Southern Giant-Petrels breeding on Australian islands
Breeding locality Survey dates Annual breeding pairs Population change (%)
Giganteus Island 1956 24  
  1993 2 -92%
Hawker Island 1970 90  
  1989 18 -80%
Frazier Islands 1950s 250  
  1990 174 -30%*
Macquarie Island 1970s 4,000  
  1999 2,293 -43%
Heard Island 1950s 5,250  
  1988 3,154 -40%
McDonald Island No previous census -  
  1979 1,400 -

* Population is possibly increasing at low levels after previous population declines

Data from sources cited in text

Population status outside areas under Australian jurisdiction

Southern Giant-Petrels formerly bred on Tristan da Cunha, but they were extirpated by 1870 (Hagen 1952, in Marchant and Higgins 1990). Only one breeding pair remained at Bouvet in 1981, but none were found in 1989. The establishment of a field station at Signy Island (off the Antarctic Peninsula) led, within eight years, to the complete desertion of the colony of 200 breeding pairs and caused a decrease in the breeding population elsewhere on the island (Rootes 1988, in Marchant and Higgins 1990). Similarly, the establishment of an Antarctic research station at Dumont d'Urville saw the breeding population decrease from 69 pairs in 1969 to only two pairs in 1980 (Jouventin et al.1984). A maximum of five pairs bred at the Kerguelen Islands in 1987. The Falkland Island (Islas Malvinas) populations have been seriously reduced following shooting of adults and destruction of eggs, as the giant-petrels were thought to menace sheep (Woods 1975, in Marchant and Higgins 1990).