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White-capped Albatross Thalassarche steadi
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The population trend of this albatross remains poorly known, as there is high inter-annual variability in breeding numbers and estimates prior to 2007 are not comparable with those made since. Analysis of recent data suggest that the trend may in fact be stable, but the species remains categorised as Near Threatened given the continuing uncertainty over its trend and because, given its longevity and slow productivity, and a high rate of mortality recorded in longline and trawl fisheries, it may be declining at a moderately rapid rate.

Taxonomic source(s)
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 & Nunn (1998), ACAP (2006) and all placed in the genus Thalassarche foll

90 cm. Medium-sized black, slate-grey and white albatross with a black thumb mark at the base of the leading edge of the underwing. It has a bold white cap contrasting with a pale silver-grey face and a darker brow. Some adult birds may have a very white back with brown tips to the feathers (B. Watkins in litt. 2008). The mantle is dark grey and tail black. The body plumage is all white and its bill is pale grey/blue with a yellow tip. Immature birds have a grey bill with a dark tip, which lightens with age and a darker head than the adult with grey extending to the collar. Similar spp. very similar to slightly smaller Shy Albatross T. cauta but T. steadi has paler face and less yellow on the culmen of the bill. Salvin's Albatross T. salvini and Chatham Albatross T. eremita have darker grey heads and lack the white cap.

Distribution and population
Thalassarche steadi is endemic to offshore islands of New Zealand, where it appears to breed biennially, with the annual breeding population estimated at approximately 100,000 pairs in 2012 (Baker et al. 2013). Breeding colonies are located on Disappointment Island, Adams Island and Auckland Island in the Auckland Island group, and Bollons Island (50-100 pairs) in the Antipodes Island Group, with some 95% of the global population breeding on Disappointment Island (Baker et al. 2013). 'Shy' type albatrosses have been recorded in the south-west Atlantic for many years (White et al. 2002, Phalan et al. 2004). Most of the birds recorded are immature, which has hindered specific identification. However, genetic evidence from a bird on South Georgia confirmed the species was T. steadi (Phalan et al. 2004). In addition, tracking studies (Thompson and Sagar 2007), bird band recoveries (Robertson et al. 2003) and DNA-based identification of bycatch specimens (Abbott et al. 2006) have confirmed that this species forages in Tasmania and Southern Africa/Namibia (Robertson et al. 2003), and immature birds are thought to occur regularly throughout the South Atlantic and south-west Indian Ocean. The first tracking studies commenced on Auckland Island in 2006 and are ongoing (Thompson and Sagar 2007). Annual estimates of breeding pairs between 2007-2011 appeared to indicate a very rapid population decline, but inter-annual variability and larger numbers breedng in 2012 cast this into doubt. The need for accurate trend information is highlighted by estimates of 8,000 individuals killed annually as a result of longline and trawl fisheries by ACAP (2009), and over 17,000 birds per year by Francis (2012). However, adult survival (based on mark-recapture data) was estimated at 0.96 (0.91-1.00, 95% C.I.) by Francis (2012), suggesting that adults may not be overly impacted by fisheries bycatch (B. Baker in litt. 2013).

Population justification
The annual breeding population was estimated at 100,501 pairs in 2012, but in recent years estimates have ranged from as high as 116,025 pairs in 2006 and as few as 73,838 in 2009. The 2012 estimate equates to c.201,000 mature individuals, but this species is now considered to be a biennial breeder, meaning that the total population may in fact be much larger.

Trend justification
Pre-2006/2007 population estimates were not based on comparable methodologies to current census methods and therefore population trends cannot be calculated before this time. Counts since then are comparable with current estimates and appeared to indicate a rapidly declining population (117,197 pairs in 2007 and 77,005 pairs in 2011, for the Auckland Islands excluding Adams Island, where there is a very small population - 117 pairs in 2011). However, numbers in 2012 were larger (100,501 pairs) and estimates between 2006-212 showed very high inter-annual variability (the species is now considered to be a biennial breeder). Whilst a TRIM (TRends and Indices for Monitoring data) analysis of annual estimates of breeding pairs between 2006-2012 found a moderate decline (-2.19% per year), trend analysis using smoothing splines - which is considered to be more appropriate to data sets with high inter-annual variability - showed no evidence for a systematic monotonic decline over this period, suggesting that the population may be stable (Baker et al. 2013, I. Debski in litt. 2013). Further data are therefore required to confirm the population trend, which is currently precautionarily retained as a moderately rapid ongoing decline given the considerable numbers recorded as bycatch in fisheries.

Behaviour The breeding frequency and season for this colonially breeding species is poorly known (Petersen 2004), but recent indications are that it breeds biennially (ACAP 2009, Baker et al. 2013), with annual probability of breeding estimated at 0.68 (0.58–0.81, 95% C.I) by Francis (2012). No information is available about either juvenile survival or the age at first breeding (Francis 2012).. Eggs are usually laid mid-November and hatch in February. Chicks are thought to fledge in mid-August, though a fledging period of June-July may be more likely. Some adults remain near the colonies year-round (ACAP 2009). Habitat Breeding Colonies are generally located on rock islands. Diet The main foods include, fish, cephalopods, crustaceans and tunicates. It is a ship-follower and fish processing discharge comprises a significant proportion of its diet. Birds are generally surface feeders, but may undertake shallow surface dives.

The geographic range of T. steadi brings them into contact with a variety of longline and trawl fisheries in New Zealand, the high seas and off the coast of South Africa and Namibia (Baker et al. 2007). The global bycatch of this species (including cryptic mortality) was estimated to be over 17,000 birds per year by Francis (2012), with c.30% of this bycatch coming from New Zealand fisheries, although this percentage appears to be declining, and lack of data concerning cryptic mortality make these estimates very uncertain.

However, although T. cauta ('shy-type') comprised 15% of all seabirds returned from longlines in New Zealand waters during 1988-1997 (Taylor 2000), New Zealand demersal and pelagic longline fisheries were considered to have a relatively low impact on T. steadi populations by Baker et al. (2007). Previously, this impact was higher; the Auckland Islands squid trawl fishery killed 2,300 adults in 1990 alone, most through collision with net monitor cables, which were phased out in 1992 (Croxall and Gales 1998, Taylor 2000). However, birds are still killed by entanglement in nets and by collision with warp cables in trawl fisheries (Taylor 2000, Baker et al. 2007).

This species is also the most frequently caught species in pelagic tuna longline operations off South Africa (Ryan et al. 2002). It is estimated that 7,000-11,000 T. steadi were killed in the South African pelagic longline fishery between 1998-2000 (Ryan et al. 2002), and in 2005, an estimated 500-600 shy-type albatrosses were killed (Petersen 2004). In the South African demersal trawl fishery, observer data from 2004-2005 produced an estimate of 7,700 shy type albatrosses killed annually, and subsequent DNA analysis indicated that these were all T. steadi (ACAP 2009). In 2005 and 2006, T. steadi spent 85% of their time in southern African trawl grounds (ACAP 2009). Since the introduction of mandatory permit requirements in August 2006, whereby all vessels must deploy a bird streamer line, the bycatch rate has decreased but further data collection is required to establish a new catch estimate (Watkins et al. 2006). The impact of the large distant water fleets of Japan, Taiwan and Korea on T. steadi is largely unknown, but Japanese data from 2001-2002 indicate that at least 10% of recorded albatross mortalities were 'shy-type' albatrosses (Baker et al. 2007). It has been estimated that 8,200 White-capped Albatrosses are currently killed per annum, 75% of which are as a result of interactions with trawl fisheries in South African, Namibian and New Zealand waters (Baker et al. 2007). In the Uruguayan longline fleet operating in the southwest Atlantic Ocean, shy-type albatrosses (cauta-type) made up 25% of all birds observed in association with vessels, mostly immatures. Five individuals caught as bycatch were confirmed as T. steadi, but numbers caught were not sufficient to predict an overall bycatch level for the fleet (Jimenez et al. 2009).

Commercial exploitation of squid or fish reserves in Bass Strait could pose a threat to the species in the future by direct competition for food. On Auckland Island, the nesting area was significantly reduced during 1972-1982 because of interference by pigs, and feral cats may also take small numbers of chicks (Croxall and Gales 1998, Taylor 2000, Thompson and Sagar 2006).

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II and ACAP Annex 1. A five-year aerial survey program of the Disappointment Island population commenced in 2006-2007. The New Zealand Department of Conservation has recently contracted the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research to conduct demographic and tracking study of the Auckland Islands populations. Conservation Actions Proposed
Census populations on all New Zealand islands. Conduct regular monitoring of a representative proportion of the population. Determine the at-sea distribution of the species through tracking studies and the interaction with longline and trawl fisheries (BirdLife International 2004). 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 range, including via intergovernmental mechanisms such as ACAP, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and FAO.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Abbot, C. L.; Double, M. C.; Gales, R.; Baker, G. B.; Lashko, A.; Robertson, C. J. R.; 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.

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: White-capped Albatross Thalassarche steadi. Available at: #

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.

Baker, G. B.; Jensz, K.; Cunningham, R. 2013. White-capped albatross population estimate - 2011/12 and 2012/13 . Department of Conservation.

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.

Francis, R. I. C. C. 2012. Fisheries Risks to the Population Viability of White-capped Albatross Thalassarche steadi. New Zealand Aquatic Environment and Biodiversity Report No. 104. Ministry for Primary Industries.

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.

Jiménez, S.; Domingo, A.; Marquez, A.; Abreu, M.; D'Anatro, A.; Pereira, A. 2009. Interactions of long-line fishing with seabirds in the south-western Atlantic Ocean, with a focus on White-capped Albatrosses (Thalassarche steadi). Emu 109: 321-326.

Petersen, S. L. 2004. Initial bycatch assessment: South Africa’s domestic pelagic longline fishery, 2002-2003.

Petersen, S. L.; Phillips, R. A.; Ryan, P. G.; Underhill, L. G. 2008. Albatross overlap with fisheries in the Benguela Upwelling System: implications for conservation and management. Endangered Species Research 5(2/3): 117-127.

Phalan, B.; Phillips, R. A.; Double, M. C. 2004. A White-capped Albatross, Thalassarche [cuata] steadi, at South Georgia: first confirmed record in the south-western Atlantic. Emu 104(4): 359-361.

Robertson, C. J. R.; Bell, D.; Sinclair, N.; Bell, B. D. 2003. Distribution of seabirds from New Zealand that overlap with fisheries worldwide.

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.

Thompson, D. R.; Sagar, P. M. 2006. Conduct a population and distributional study on White-capped Albatross at the Auckland Islands.

Thompson, D. R.; Sagar, P. M. 2007. Conduct a population and distributional study on White-capped Albatross at the Auckland Islands.

Watkins, B. P.; Petersen, S. L.; Ryan, P. G. 2007. Interactions between seabirds and deep-water hake trawl gear: an assessment of impacts in South African waters.

White, R. W.; Gillon, K. W.; Black, A. D.; Reid, J. B. 2002. The distribution of seabirds and marine mammals in Falkland Islands waters.

Further web sources of information
Additional information is available on the distribution of the White-capped 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., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Small, C., Sullivan, B. & Symes, A.

Double, M., Gales, R., Robertson, C., Ryan, P.G., Scofield, P., Watkins, B., Debski, I., Baker, B. & Hitchmough, R.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Thalassarche steadi. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016.

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 - White-capped albatross (Thalassarche steadi) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)
Species name author Falla, 1933
Population size 200000 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 540 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species