This discussion was first published as part of the 2016 Red List update. At the time a decision regarding its status was pended, but to enable potential reassessment of this species as part of the 2021 Red List update this post remains open and the date of posting has been updated.
BirdLife species factsheet Shy Albatross
Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta is an endemic breeder in Australia, with colonies on three islands off Tasmania. Data submitted to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels in 2016 (ACAP 2016) estimated the total breeding population to be approximately 14,500 breeding pairs: Albatross Island (4,150 ± 500 pairs), Pedra Branca (140 ± 10 pairs) and the Mewstone (9,988 ± 200 pairs).
Albatross Island holds approximately 30% of the global breeding population, and its long-term monitoring program has provided the only comprehensive data on population trends and demographic and breeding parameters. Historically, birds there were exploited for the feather trade, and the population was reduced to c.300 pairs in 1909 (Johnstone et al. 1975; Brooke 2004). Since then, the population has been recovering (Alderman et al. 2011), reaching a peak of approximately 5,700 pairs in 2005-2006, and an estimated 25% of the estimated pre-exploitation population (Alderman et al. 2010).
From 1998 to 2005, the number of breeding pairs on Albatross Island increased annually by 1.9%, but from 2005 to 2014 the breeding population decreased by an average of 2.2% annually (Alderman 2015). Considering the data available from 1988 to 2015 in term of absolute numbers of breeding pairs (3736 and 4153, respectively), the population of Albatross Island has changed little over the last 28 years. However, projecting the population decline observed over the last 10 years forward over three generations (60 years, based on a generation length estimated by BirdLife to be 20 years) implies an overall population decline of 33%.
In addition, Thompson et al. (2015) used an age-, stage- and sex-structured population model to explore potential relationships between local environmental factors and albatross breeding success while accounting for fisheries bycatch by trawl and longline fisheries. Using rain and temperature forecasts under climate scenarios A2 (high emissions) and B1 (low emissions), the population on Albatross Island is predicted to decline by 1,865 breeding pairs (or 45% of the 2015 level) by 2100.
Fewer population data are available for Mewstone Island (holding around 69% of the population) as aerial surveys are logistically complex. However, based on the known foraging distribution of birds breeding there, there is a risk of overlap with fisheries and thus accidental bycatch (Alderman et al. 2011).
Although this species is exposed to threats including marine debris, plastic ingestion and pollution, incidental mortality in fishing gear is thought to pose the greatest threat (Brothers et al. 1997; Abbott et al. 2006; Gales et al. 1998; Baker et al. 2007).
Given the threats affecting the species, the ongoing declines in the 30% of the population during the last 10 years, and the projected future declines, this species appears to qualify for uplisting to Vulnerable under criterion A2bde+3bde+4bde.
Any comments on the proposed uplisting are welcome.
Abbott, C.L., Double, M.C., Baker, G.B., Gales, R., Lashko, A., Robertson, C.J.R., and Ryan, P.G. (2006). Molecular provenance analysis for shy and white-capped albatrosses killed by fisheries interactions in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Conservation Genetics 7: 531-542.
Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. 2016. ACAP Species assessments: Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta. Unpublished data.
Alderman, R., Gales, R., Hobday, A.J., Candy, S.G. (2010) Post-fledging survival and dispersal of shy albatross from three breeding colonies in Tasmania. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 405:271-285
Alderman, R.; Gales, R.; Tuck, G. N.; Lebreton, J. D. (2011). Global population status of shy albatross and an assessment of colony-specific trends and drivers. Wildlife Research 38: 672-686.
Alderman, R. (2015). Shy Albatross in Australia: population and conservation assessment. Report for the 2014-2015 season. MARINE Conservation Program, DPIPWE, Hobart.
Baker, G.B., Double, M.C., Gales, R., Tuck, G.N., Abbott, C.L., Ryan, P.G., Petersen, S.L., Robertson, C.J.R., and Alderman, R. (2007). A global assessment of the impact of fisheries-related mortality on shy and white-capped albatrosses: Conservation implications. Biological Conservation 137: 319-333.
Brothers, N.P., Reid, T.A., and Gales, R.P. (1997). At-sea distribution of shy albatrosses Diomedea cauta cauta derived from records of band recoveries and colour-marked birds. Emu 97: 231-239.
Brooke, M. (2004). Albatrosses and Petrels Across the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Gales, R., Brothers, N., and Reid, T. (1998). Seabird mortality in the Japanese tuna longline fishery around Australia, 1988-1995. Biological Conservation 86: 37-56.
Johnstone, G. W.; Milledge, D.; Dorwood, D. F. (1975). The White-capped Albatross of Albatross Island: numbers and breeding behaviour. Emu 75: 1-11.
Thomson, R.B., Alderman, R.L., Tuck, G.N., Hobday, A.J. (2015) Effects of Climate Change and Fisheries Bycatch on Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta) in Southern Australia. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0127006. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0127006