email a friend
printable version
Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species breeds on just three islands. It may be susceptible to stochastic events and human activities, although one nesting site is moderately widely separated from the other two. For this reason it is treated as Near Threatened.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
Robertson, C. J. R.; Nunn, G. B. 1998. Towards a new taxonomy for albatrosses. In: Robertson, G.; Gales, R. (ed.), Albatross biology and conservation, pp. 13-19. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, Australia.

Taxonomic note
Diomedea cauta (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993) has been split into cauta, eremita and salvini following Brooke (2004) and steadi following Robertson and Nunn (1998) and ACAP (2006)5,18, and all placed in the ge

90 cm. Medium-sized black, white and slate-grey albatross with characteristic black thumb mark at the base of the leading edge of the underwing characteristic of the Shy group of albatrosses. Adult has forehead and crown white bordered below by dark eyebrow and pale grey face. Grey-black mantle, upperwing and tail. The remainder is white. Bill grey-yellow, with more prominent yellow culmen, and yellow tip. Similar spp. the very similar White-capped albatross T. steadi is slightly larger and has a paler face and less yellow on the culmen of the bill.

Distribution and population

Thalassarche cauta is an endemic breeder in Australia, with colonies on three islands off Tasmania. Data submitted to ACAP estimated the total breeding population to be approximately 15,350 breeding pairs: Albatross Island (5,200 pairs), Pedra Branca (130-170 pairs) and the Mewstone (7,600-12,400 pairs). T. cauta was historically killed for the feather trade and the Albatross Island population was reduced to c.300 pairs in 1909 (Johnstone et al. 1975, Brooke 2004). Since then, the population on Albatross Island has been slowly recovering (Brooke 2004), reaching approximately 25% of the pre-exploited population in 2004 (ACAP Species Assessment draft). The historical population size and trend of Mewstone and Pedra Branca are unknown. The population on Pedra Branca may have always been small but it appears competition for nesting space with Australasian Gannets Morus serrator may steadily be reducing the number of fledglings produced on the island each year. Chick production on Pedra Branca dropped from over 100 to 31 between 1993 and 2007, representing a decrease of approximately 9% a year (ACAP 2009). Understanding the at-sea distribution of T. cauta is confounded by its similar appearance to other 'shy-type' albatrosses, particularly T. steadi (Double et al. 2003, ACAP 2006). During the breeding season, adults are relatively sedentary and are concentrated around Tasmania and southern Australia (Garnett and Crowley 2000, Hedd et al. 2001, BirdLife International 2004, Baker et al. 2007). However, juvenile birds from Mewstone (Tasmania) are known to migrate to South Africa (BirdLife International 2004, Baker et al. 2007). One banded bird from Albatross Island has been recovered in northern New Zealand (C.J.R. Robertson in litt. 2008).

Population justification
The global population of Shy Albatross was estimated to be 12,000 to 19,000 pairs in 2009 (Alderman et al. 2011). Data submitted to ACAP estimated a total population of 15,350 pairs, made up of 5,200 pairs on Albatross Island (in 2010) (Alderman et al. 2011), 7,600-12,400 pairs on Mewstone (in 2005) (Alderman et al. 2011), and 130-170 pairs on Pedra Branca (in 2009) (Alderman et al. 2011). The number of mature individuals is therefore estimated at c.30,700. The global population including non-breeders is now estimated to be 60,000-70,000 individuals.

Trend justification
Without knowing the population trend on Mewstone, or the historic population size on Pedra Branca, overall trend over a three generation period (66 years) cannot be accurately assessed.

Behaviour Shy Albatross breeds annually in colonies. Eggs are mostly laid in the second half of September (Brooke 2004). They hatch in December and chicks fledge mostly in April. Immature birds return to their breeding colony at least 3 years after fledging, mostly beginning breeding when at least 5 to 6 years old, nearly always in their natal colonies. Thalassarche cauta usually forage singly and have been observed taking prey from the surface or occasionally making surface plunges or shallow dives. However, a study using time-depth recorders revealed T. cauta commonly plunge-dive within 3 m of the surface and can swim down to over 7 metres (ACAP 2009). Habitat Breeding Nests are a mound of soil, grass and roots, and are located on rock islands. Diet The main foods are fish and cephlapods (Hedd and Gales 2001), with crustaceans and tunicates also forming a part of the diet. It is a ship-follower and fish processing discharge comprises a significant proportion of its diet.

Although 'shy-type' albatrosses, (thought largely to be T. cauta) comprised over 12% of seabirds caught by Japanese tuna longliners in Australian waters during 1989-1995 (up to 900 birds per year) (Gales et al. 1998), Japanese fishing effort ceased in 1997 and the current domestic effort is concentrated in northern waters where the likelihood of encountering albatrosses is much lower (Baker et al. 2007). Currently, there is limited overlap between the distribution of adult Shy Albatrosses and Australian longline fishing effort (although the impact of trawl fisheries is unknown). However, juvenile birds from the Mewstone population are known to traverse the Indian Ocean and forage in waters off South Africa, which brings them into contact with several fisheries that pose a greater bycatch threat (Baker et al. 2007). At the small Pedra Branca colony, interaction with the Australasian Gannet Morus serrator (which is increasing across its range) is thought to be the primary cause of the observed rapid declines in the number of chicks produced each year at that colony, and extreme weather conditions may also reduce breeding success on the island (ACAP Species Assessment draft). Avian pox virus has been recorded in chicks on Albatross Island (Tasmania) and has the potential to impact population trends through negative impacts to breeding success (R. Woods and R. Gales in litt. 2008).

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II and ACAP Annex 1. Currently disturbance and access issues prevent studies on Pedra Branca and the Mewstone. These two sites are also internationally designated protected sites, being part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (UNEP/CMS 2008). Conservation Actions Proposed
Analysis of aerial census data and maintenance of current programme for Pedra Branca and the Mewstone (due to logistic difficulties demographic studies of populations on Pedra Branca and the Mewstone population are not feasible). Promote the adoption of a) monitoring of seabird bycatch associated with longline and trawl fishing and b) best-practice mitigation measures in all fisheries within the species's range, including via intergovernmental mechanisms such as ACAP, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and FAO. Mewstone birds appear to travel more extensively than Albatross Island birds and are therefore exposed to interactions with a range of fishing fleets.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Abbott, C. L.; Double, M. C. 2003. Phylogeography of shy and white-capped albatrosses inferred from mitochondrial DNA sequences: implications for population history and taxonomy. Molecular Ecology 12(10): 2747-2758.

ACAP. 2009. ACAP Species Assessment: Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta. Available at: #

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.

Baker, G. B.; Double, M. C.; Gales, R.; Tuck, G. N.; Abbott, C. L.; Ryan, P. G.; Petersen, S. L.; Robertson, C. J. R.; Alderman, R. 2007. A global assessment of the impact of fisheries-related mortality on Shy and White-capped Albatrosses: conservation implications. Biological Conservation 137(3): 319-333.

BirdLife International. 2004. Tracking ocean wanderers: the global distribution of albatrosses and petrels. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Brooke, M. De L. 2004. Albatrosses and petrels across the world. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Croxall, J. P.; Gales, R. 1998. Assessment of the conservation status of albatrosses. In: Robertson, G.; Gales, R. (ed.), Albatross biology and conservation, pp. 46-65. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, Australia.

Double, M. C.; Gales, R.; Reid, T.; Brothers, N.; Abbott, C. L. 2003. Morphometric comparison of Australian shy and New Zealand white-capped albatrosses. Emu 103: 287-294.

Gales, R.; Brothers, N.; Reid, T. 1998. Seabird mortality in the Japanese tuna longline fishery around Australia, 1988-1995. Biological Conservation 86: 37-56.

Garnett, S. T.; Crowley, G. M. 2000. The action plan for Australian birds 2000. Environment Australia, Canberra.

Hedd, A.; Gales, R.; Brothers, N. 2001. Foraging strategies of Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta breeding at Albatross Island, Tasmania, Australia. Marine Ecology Progress Series 224: 267-282.

Johnstone, G. W.; Milledge, D.; Dorwood, D. F. 1975. The White-capped Albatross of Albatross Island: numbers and breeding behaviour. Emu 75: 1-11.

Report on the second meeting of the parties (MoP2) held 10-12 November, 2006 in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Robertson, C. J. R.; Nunn, G. B. 1998. Towards a new taxonomy for albatrosses. In: Robertson, G.; Gales, R. (ed.), Albatross biology and conservation, pp. 13-19. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, Australia.

Ryan, P. G.; Keith, D. G.; Kroese, M. 2002. Seabird bycatch by tuna longline fisheries off southern Africa, 1998-2000. South African Journal of Marine Science 24: 103.

Taylor, G. A. 2000. Action plan for seabird conservation in New Zealand. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Tennyson, A.; Imber, M.; Taylor, R. 1998. Numbers of Black-browed Mollymawks (Diomedea m. melanophrys) and White-capped Mollymawks (D. cauta steadi) at the Antipodes Islands in 1994-95 and their population trends in the New Zealand region. Notornis 45: 157-166.

UNEP/CMS. 2008. Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta). In: Vagg, R. (ed.), CMS Family Guide: the encyclopaedia of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, UNEP-CMS Secretariat, Bonn, Germany:.

Wilcox, C. 2006. Review of trends monitoring methods as applied to seabird populations (AC2 Doc 32).

Further web sources of information
Additional information is available on the distribution of the Shy Albatross from the Global Procellariiform Tracking Database (

Australian Govt - Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 - Recovery Outline

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Anderson, O., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Nel, D., Small, C., Stattersfield, A., Sullivan, B., Symes, A.

Alderman, R., Croxall, J., Gales, R., Robertson, C.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Taylor, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Thalassarche cauta. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)
Species name author (Gould, 1841)
Population size 30700 mature individuals
Population trend Unknown
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 23,900,000 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species