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Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans
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Overall past and predicted future declines amount to a rapid population reduction over a period of three generations, qualifying the species as Vulnerable. At South Georgia, this species is undergoing a rapid decline over three generations (70 years). On the Crozet and Kerguelen Islands, the populations rapidly declined between 1970-1986, then stabilised, but have recently declined again. Longline fishing is believed to be a main cause of decline in this species, causing reductions in adult survival and juvenile recruitment, and this threat is ongoing.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Brooke, M. de L. 2004. Albatrosses and Petrels Across the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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.
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #

Taxonomic note
Diomedea exulans (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993) has been split into D. exulans, D. dabbenena and D. antipodensis following Brooke (2004), contra Robertson and Nunn (1998) who also split antipodensis into T.

115 cm. Huge albatross with variable plumage, whitening with age. Juvenile chocolate-brown with white face mask, white underwing with black tip and trailing margin. Underparts become pure white. On upperparts, back whitens first, followed by crown and rump, white wedge forms in centre upperwing, extending to coverts. Black tips remain on outer tail feathers. Pink bill and flesh legs. Similar spp. Enlargement of white upperwing area is species-specific: D. exulans central wedge, Southern Royal Albatross D. epomophora from forewing, Northern Royal Albatross D. sanfordi only in scapular area. Probably, indistinguishable from recently split Tristan D. dabbenena and Antipodean D. antipodensis albatrosses at-sea.

Distribution and population
Diomedea exulans breeds on South Georgia (Georgias del Sur) (c. 25% of the global breeding population), Prince Edward Islands (South Africa) (c. 40% of the global population), Crozet Islands and Kerguelen Islands (French Southern Territories) (approximately 10% of the global population) and Macquarie Island (Australia) (approximately four pairs breeding per year), with a total global population of c. 6,100 pairs breeding in any given year (ACAP 2009). At South Georgia, the population declined by 1.8% per annum between 1984 and 2004 (Poncet et al. 2006). The population on Crozet declined by 54% between 1970 - 1986. From the mid 1980s to late 1990s, the Crozet, Kerguelen and Prince Edward Islands populations appeared to be stable or increasing (Weimerskirch et al. 1997, Weimerskirch and Jouventin 1998, Crawford et al. 2003, Ryan et al. 2003), but declines have recently been detected (P. Ryan in litt 2008, H. Weimerskirch in litt. 2008). Overall declines are estimated to exceed 30% over 70 years. Recovery is believed to be impeded by a decline in recruitment rate (Weimerskirch et al. 2006). Non-breeding and juvenile birds remain north of 50°S between subantarctic and subtropical waters with a significant proportion crossing the Indian Ocean to wintering grounds around the southern and eastern coast of Australia (ACAP 2009). A significant proportion of the Crozet and Kerguelen populations disperse into the Pacific and the western coast of South America (H. Weimerskirch in litt. 2008).

Population justification
In 1998, the total annual breeding population was estimated at 8,500 pairs, equivalent to c.28,000 mature individuals (Gales 1998). However, current estimates are 1,553 pairs on South Georgia (Georgias del Sur) (Poncet et al. 2006), 1,800 pairs on the Prince Edward Island (Ryan et al. 2009), c.2,056 pairs on Marion Island (R. Crawford in litt. 2010), c.340 pairs on Iles Crozet (CNRS Chinzè Monitoring Database 2010), c.354 pairs in Iles Kerguelen (CNRS Chinzè Monitoring Database 2011), and 4 pairs on Macquarie Island (DPIWPE 2010, unpublished data), making a total of c. 6,107 annual breeding pairs. Using the same ratio as Gales (1998) for estimating the number of mature individuals, this would equate to approximately 20,100 mature individuals.

Trend justification
At South Georgia, this species has declined by 1.8% per annum over the past 20 years, and there has been an acceleration in the rate of decrease to over 4% per annum since 1997 (J. Cooper and J. P. Croxall in litt. 2000; Poncet et al. 2006). Overall the South Georgia population has declined by 30% between 1984-2004 (Poncet et al. 2006). On Bird Island, adult and post-fledging survival has decreased since the mid 1980s (British Antarctic Survey unpublished data). On the Crozet Islands, the population stabilised following rapid declines during 1970-1986, but is now declining again (Weimerskirch et al. 1997; Delord et al. 2008). Low juvenile recruitment is believed to be delaying recovery (Weimerskirch et al. 2006). On the Prince Edward Islands the population is now stable or slightly decreasing (Nel et al. 2002b, 2002c; Crawford et al. 2003; Ryan et al. 2003; P. Ryan in litt. 2008), with the exception of Marion Island, where the population is thought to have increased 0.21% per annum 1998-2010 (R. Crawford in litt. 2012). Overall declines are estimated to exceed 30% over 70 years. However, the long generation time of this species makes it difficult to determine the most appropriate trend period for predicting population trends into the future.

Behaviour Diomedea exulans is a biennial breeding species, although about 30% of successful and 35% of failed breeders (on average) defer breeding beyond the expected year. Adults return to colonies in November, and eggs are laid over a period of 5 weeks during December and January. Most eggs hatch in March, and chicks fledge in December. Birds usually return to colonies when 5-7 years old, though can return when as young as 3 years old. Birds can start breeding as young as 7 or 8 years old (ACAP 2009). Wandering Albatross typically forages in oceanic waters, however considerable time is spent over shelf areas during certain stages of the breeding season (BirdLife International 2004). Satellite tracking has revealed that juvenile birds tend to forage further north than adults (Weimerskirch et al. 2006, British Antarctic Survey unpublished data), bringing them into greater overlap with longline tuna fleets which may be driving falls in recruitment rates (Weimerskirch et al. 1997). Females may also be at greater risk of being caught in tuna fisheries since they tend to forage further north than males (Nel et al. 2002, Weimerskirch et al. 2003, Pinaud and Weimerskirch 2007) and show lower survival (Xavier et al. 2004). It is mostly a diurnal breeder, taking most prey by surface-seizing (ACAP 2009). Habitat Breeding Wandering Albatross nests in open or patchy vegetation near exposed ridges or hillocks (Carboneras 1992b). Diet Adults feed at sea mainly on cephalopods and fish, often following ships and feeding on offal and galley refuse (Carboneras 1992b, Cherel and Klages 1998). Patagonian toothfish Dissostichus eleginoides is the primary fish species in the diet, potentially obtained as discarded offal (ACAP 2009). Foraging range This wide ranging species has a circumpolar distribution, and both breeding and non-breeding birds have very large foraging ranges. Satellite tracking data indicate that breeding birds forage at very long distances from colonies (up to 4,000 km) and that foraging strategies change throughout the breeding season (ACAP 2009). A recent fledgling covered 6,590km in 28 days after leaving the colony on Marion Island (Clokie 2007).

The observed decline of this species has been shown to be driven largely by incidental catch in fisheries, which has reduced adult survival and juvenile recruitment (Rolland et al. 2010). The vast foraging range means that birds encounter many different longline fleets (BirdLife International 2004). Fisheries were responsible for a 54% decrease in numbers on the Crozet Islands between 1970 and 1986 (Weimerskirch et al. 1997). The South Georgia population disperses throughout the Southern Ocean during the nonbreeding season, although may be most at risk from longline fisheries operating in the south-west Atlantic throughout the year, whereas the Crozet and Prince Edward Island populations are most vulnerable to pelagic longline fishing in the Indian Ocean and Australian region (Weimerskirch 1998, Nel et al. 2002c). The apparent recovery of populations from the Crozet and Prince Edward Islands during the early 1990s was ascribed to reduced fishing effort and relocation of fisheries away from foraging grounds, however increased effort in the late 1990s at various different localities may once again be impacting these populations (Weimerskirch et al. 1997, Nel et al. 2002b), as even low bycatch rates will affect the species due to the small population size (ACAP 2009). The Macquarie population was harvested extensively by sealers and, although it recovered in the early 20th century, experienced subsequent declines that were also attributed to longline fisheries (de la Mare and Kerry 1994). Chicks are vulnerable to the accumulation of anthropogenic debris and fishing hooks (Nel and Nel 1999). In 2007 a survey of Wandering Albatross chicks on Bird Island revealed that half had ingested fishing hooks (British Antarctic Survey unpublished data). On Kerguelen, in some years certain colonies have complete breeding failure owing to predation of young chicks by cats (H. Weimerskirch in litt. 2008). There has been extensive habitat loss and degradation at South Georgia (Islas Georgias del Sur) due to the activities of Antarctic fur seals Arctocephalus gazella (ACAP 2009).

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II and ACAP Annex 1. Population monitoring and foraging studies are being undertaken at South Georgia (Georgias del Sur), the Prince Edward Islands, Crozet, Kerguelen and Macquarie. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has introduced measures which have reduced bycatch of albatrosses around South Georgia by over 99%. Recently, other Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, including the tuna commissions, have taken initial steps to reduce seabird bycatch rates. The Prince Edward Islands are a special nature reserve and Macquarie is a World Heritage Site. Large parts of the breeding colonies on the Crozet and Kerguelen Islands are now part of a Nature Reserve. On Macquarie, cats have been eradicated (Quin 2008) and an operation targeting rabbits, rats, and mice commenced in winter 2010.Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue population monitoring programs at all sites to allow assessment of population trends, survival and production rates. Continue tracking studies to determine spatial and temporal overlap with fisheries for populations and life stages where these data do not exist. Promote adoption of best-practice mitigation measures in all fisheries within the species's range, including via intergovernmental mechanisms such as ACAP, FAO and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

ACAP. 2009. ACAP Species Assessment: Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans. Available at: #

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

Carboneras, C. 1992. Diomedeidae (Albatrosses). In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (ed.), Handbook of the birds of the world, pp. 198-215. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Cherel, Y.; Klages, N. 1998. A review of the food of albatrosses. In: Robertson, G.; Gales, G. (ed.), Albatross biology and conservation, pp. 113-136. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, Australia.

Clokie, L. 2007. A little wanderer. Bee-eater 58(4): 65-66.

Crawford, R. J. M.; Cooper, J.; Dyer, B. M.; Greyling, M.; Klages, N. T. W.; Ryan, P. G.; Petersen, S.; Underhill, L. G.; Upfold, L.; Wilkinson, W.; de Villiers, M.; du Plessis, S.; du Toit, M.; Leshoro, T. M.;…authors continued in notes. 2003. Populations of surface nesting seabirds at Marion Island, 1994/95-2002/03. African Journal of Marine Science 25: 427-440.

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.

de la Mare, W. K.; Kerry, K. R. 1994. Population dynamics of the Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) on Macquarie Island and the effects of mortality from longline fishing. Polar Biology 14: 231-241.

Delord, K.; Besson, D.; Barbraud, C.; Weimerskirch, H. 2008. Population trends in a community of large Procellariforms of Indian Ocean: potential effects of environment and fisheries interactions. Biological Conservation 141(7): 1840-1856.

Gales, R. 1998. Albatross populations: status and threats. In: Robertson, G.; Gales, R. (ed.), Albatross biology and conservation, pp. 20-45. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, Australia.

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

Nel, D. C.; Nel, J. L. 1999. Marine debris and fishing gear associated with seabirds at sub-antarctic Marion Island, 1996/97 and 1997/98: in relation to longline fishing activity. CCAMLR Science 6: 85-96.

Nel, D. C.; Ryan, P. G.; Cooper, J. 2002. Population dynamics of Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans at sub-Antarctic Marion Island: longline fishing and environmental influences.

Nel, D. C.; Ryan, P. G.; Crawford, R. J. M.; Cooper, J.; Huyser, O. 2002. Population trends of albatrosses and petrels at sub-Antarctic Marion Island. Polar Biology 25: 81-89.

Nel, D. C.; Ryan, P. G.; Nel, J. L.; Klages, N. T. W.; Wilson, R. P.; Robertson, G. 2002. Foraging interactions of wandering albatrosses Diomedea exulans breeding on Marion Island with longline fisheries in the southern Indian Ocean. Ibis 144: E141-E154.

Nel, D. C.;Taylor, F.; Ryan, P. G.; Cooper, J. 2003. Population dynamics of the Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans at Marion Island: longline fishing and environmental influences. African Journal of Marine Science 25(1): 503-517.

Pinaud, D.; Weimerskirch, H. 2007. At-sea distribution and scale-dependent foraging behaviour of petrels and albatrosses: a comparative study. Journal of Animal Ecology 76: 9-19.

Poncet, S.; Robertson, G.; Phillips, R. A.; Lawton, K.; Phalan, B.; Trathan, P. N.; Croxall, J. P. 2006. Status and distribution of Wandering, Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses breeding at South Georgia. Polar Biology 29: 772-781.

Quin, B. 2008. Trends in threatened species: Wandering Albatross. Wingspan 18(4 Suppl): 36.

Rolland, V.; Weimerskirch, H.; Barbraud, C. 2010. Relative influence of fisheries and climate on the demography of four albatross species. Global Change Biology 16(7): 1910-1922.

Ryan, P. G.; Cooper, J.; Dyer, B. M.; Underhill, L. G.; Crawford, R. J. M.; Bester, M. N. 2003. Counts of surface-nesting seabirds breeding at Prince Edward Island, Summer 2001/02. African Journal of Marine Science 25(1): 441-451.

Terauds, A.; Gales, R.; Baker, G. B.; Alderman, R. 2006. Population and survival trends of wandering Albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) breeding on Macquarie Island. Emu 106(3): 211-218.

Weimerskirch, H.; Akesson, S.; Pinaud, D. 2006. Postnatal dispersal of Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans: implications for the conservation of the species. Journal of Avian Biology 37: 23-28.

Weimerskirch, H.; Brothers, N.; Jouventin, P. 1997. Population dynamics of Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans and Amsterdam Albatross D. amsterdamensis in the Indian Ocean and their relationships with long-line fisheries: conservation implications. Biological Conservation 79: 257-270.

Weimerskirch, H.; Inchausti, P.; Guinet, C.; Barbraud, C. 2003. Trends in bird and seal populations as indicators of a system shift in the Southern Ocean. Antarctic Science 15: 249-256.

Weimerskirch, H.; Jouventin, P. 1998. Changes in population sizes and demographic parameters of six albatross species breeding on the French sub-antarctic islands. In: Robertson, G.; Gales, R. (ed.), Albatross biology and conservation, pp. 84-91. Surrey Beatty and Sons, Chipping Norton, Australia.

Weimerskirch. 1998. Foraging strategies of Indian Ocean albatrosses and their relationship with fisheries. In: Robertson, G.; Gales, R. (ed.), Albatross biology and conservation, pp. 137-167. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Sydney.

Xavier, J. C.; Trathan, P. N.; Croxall, J. P.; Wood, A. G.; Podesta, G.; Rodhouse, P. G. 2004. Foraging ecology and interactions with fisheries of Wandering Albatrosses (Diomeda exulans) breeding at South Georgia. Fisheries Oceanography 13: 324-344.

Further web sources of information
Additional information is available on the distribution of the Wandering 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., Calvert, R., Nel, D., Small, C., Stattersfield, A., Sullivan, B., Symes, A.

Cooper, J., Croxall, J., Gales, R., Phillips, R., Weimerskirsch, H.

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

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Diomedea exulans. 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 - Wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)
Species name author Linnaeus, 1758
Population size 20100 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 64,700,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species