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Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis

This species has rebounded from declines in the late 1990s and early 2000s, perhaps because apparent changes in the breeding populations reflected large scale environmental conditions that affected the number of birds that returned to the colonies to nest rather than actual declines in the population. Given the difficulty of predicting long-term trends for such a long-lived species, and the number of documented threats and the uncertainty over their future effects, the species is precautionarily projected to undergo a moderately rapid population decline over three generations (84 years), and as such qualifies as Near Threatened.

Taxonomic source(s)
AOU. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
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.
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.
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.
Stotz, D. F.; Fitzpatrick, J. W.; Parker, T. A.; Moskovits, D. K. 1996. Neotropical birds: ecology and conservation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Diomedea immutabilis Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993), Diomedea immutabilis Stotz et al. (1996), Diomedea immutabilis immutabilis Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993), Diomedea immutabilis immutabilis Stotz et al. (1996)

81 cm. Small two-tone, gull-like albatross. Upperwings, mantle, back, upper rump and tail blackish-grey. Head, lower rump and underparts white. Blackish smudge around eye. Bill pinkish with darker tip. Black-and-white underwing pattern varies between individuals having narrow black margins and variable amounts of black in the underwing coverts. Juveniles very similar but for greyer bill and wholly dark upper rump. Similar spp. Easily separated from the wholly dark Black-footed Albatross P. nigripes. Adult Short-tailed Albatross P. albatrus has a white back.

Distribution and population
Phoebastria immutabilis breeds at 16 sites (nine with populations of greater than 100 pairs), mostly in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (USA) and US Minor Outlying Islands, with additional small colonies in Japan and Mexico. The population is estimated to be c.590,926 breeding pairs, with the largest colony at Midway Atoll, followed by Laysan Island, both in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Naughton et al. 2007). Population sizes at monitored colonies increased between 1980 and 1995 but have never reached the densities observed prior to large-scale harvests for feathers in the early 1900s. Data indicated a 32% decline during 1992-2002 (3.2% per annum) of birds breeding on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where 99% of the global population is found (Gilman and Freifeld 2003, US Fish and Wildlife Service data per B. Flint 2003), though data from 2004 and 2006 indicate that the breeding population then rebounded, and that the overall population trend for 1992-2005 is stable (Naughton et al. 2007). On Oahu, Hawaii the small population has increased 27% annually since 1991, and numbered 365 adults in 2008, due primarily to immigration with some local recruitment (Young et al. 2009). A population began nesting in Mexico in the 1980s and has been increasing since then. The current population is about 400 pairs at four sites (46 pairs on Clarion Island in 2002, Wanless et al. 2009), though this represents less than 0.1% of the global population (Naughton et al. 2007). Breeding populations were extirpated from Wake and Johnston atolls (USA) and Minami Torishima (Japan) in the central Pacific. Ship-based observations, satellite tracking and fisheries bycatch reveal the wide distribution of Laysan Albatross in the North Pacific, ranging from the Bering Sea to tropical waters in the South (15-20 degrees North) (Fernandez et al. 2001, Hyrenbach et al. 2002, Shaffer et al. 2004).

Population justification
The population is estimated to number c.591,000 breeding pairs, equivalent to c.1.18 million mature individuals (likely to equate to at least 1.7 million total individuals) (Naughton et al. 2007). This estimate is based on standardized surveys at Midway Atoll, Laysan Island and French Frigate Shoals in 2006 (551,940 pairs; 25,780 95% CI; Flint 2007). These three colonies support 90% of the global breeding population. Estimates for the other colonies are the most recent available (1982-2006). There are c.23 pairs breeding on the Bonin Islands in Japan, and c.400 pairs on islands offshore from Mexico (primarily Isla Guadalupe, 337 pairs estimated in 2005) (Naughton et al. 2007). Data from Hawaiian colonies suggests that a proportion of the breeding population do not breed each year, and as such the population may be greater than estimated here (L. Young in litt. 2009). Brazil (2009) has estimated the population in Japan at

Trend justification
Population sizes at monitored colonies increased between 1980 and 1995 but have never reached the densities observed prior to large-scale harvests for feathers in the early 1900s. Data indicate a 32% decline during 1992-2002 (3.2% per annum) in populations on Midway Atoll, Laysan Island and French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where 90% of the global population is found (US Fish and Wildlife Service data per B. Flint 2003, Gilman and Freifeld 2003). However, data from 2004 and 2005 indicate that the breeding population then rebounded, and that the overall population trend for 1992-2005 is stable, perhaps because these changes in the breeding populations were reflective of large scale environmental conditions that affected the number of birds that returned to the colonies to nest rather than actual declines in the population (Naughton et al. 2007). A population began nesting in Mexico in the 1980s and has been increasing since then. The current population is about 400 pairs at four sites, although this represents less than 0.1% of the global population (Naughton et al. 2007). Considering such data, and the difficulty of of predicting long-term trends for such a long-lived species, a decline of 20-29% over the period 1992-2078 is precautionarily estimated given the number of documented threats and the uncertainty over their future effects.

Laysan Albatross is an annual breeder though, like other albatross species, each year a proportion of birds will skip a breeding season. Nests vary from a simple scoop in the sand to more elaborate nests where vegetation allows. A Laysan Albatross has been recorded breeding aged 55 years (USFWS unpublished data). High rates of mate change (14%), super-normal clutches, and same-sex pairing (31% of pairs), observed on Oahu, Hawaii are all previously unreported for the species (Young et al. 2008, 2009). The high rates of same-sex pairing is thought to result from a slightly skewed sex ratio (57% female) (Young et al. 2008). Diet analysis indicates that it feeds primarily on cephalopods (Pittman et al. 2006), though also on a variety of fish, crustaceans and other invertebrates (Tickell 2000). Satellite tracking has revealed the large journeys made even while breeding (Fernandez et al. 2001, Naughton et al. 2007, S. Shaffer in litt 2007). Breeding birds at Tern Island switch from a local unimodal foraging strategy during brooding, to a bimodal foraging strategy incorporating more distant, highly productive subarctic waters during the rearing period (Hyrenbach et al. 2002). Reproductive success has been linked to foraging location, with pairs fledging chicks two years in a row not foraging near continental shelves (Edwards and Parrish 2008). It is thought that this ability may be influenced by information gathered during the non-breeding season (Edwards and Parrish 2008).

Historically, populations were greatly reduced by feather and egg collecting in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and by high seas drift nets for squid and salmon that were active between 1978 and 1992. Prior to its closure, the high seas driftnet fishery killed over 17,500 P. immutabilis in 1990 alone (Johnson et al. 1993). Current key threats are being caught as bycatch in pelagic (Crowder and Myers 2002) and demersal longline fisheries (Stehn et al. 2001) in the North Pacific as well as in illegal high seas driftnet operations. Analyses in 2001 estimated that pelagic longliners in the North Pacific may kill 5,000-18,000 Laysan Albatross per year, with 8,000 thought the most likely figure, while demersal longline operations in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries were estimated to kill c.715 birds per year (Crowder and Myers 2002). However, more recent estimates indicate a drastic reduction in bycatch from previous years (83 birds estimated taken in 2005) that is very likely attributable to the use of effective seabird avoidance measures (K. Rivera in litt. 2007). The bycatch rates in Japanese and Taiwanese pelagic longline fisheries in the North Pacific are still largely unknown. Other threats include organochlorine contamination, invasive species, plastic ingestion, lead poisoning, human disturbance and conflicts with aircraft (Harrison 1990, Ludwig et al. 1998, Finkelstein et al. 2003, Finkelstein 2006). Chicks with large volumes of proventricular plastic have been reported to have fledging weights significantly lower than chicks with low amounts of plastic, and there is some evidence to suggest it may have affected survival in 1986, when the volume of plastic ingestion was at its highest (Sievert and Sileo 2008). Oil pollution is no longer considered a likely threat (I. C. T. Nisbet in litt. 2010). Up to 10,000 chicks per year are potentially affected by lead poisoning from paint on buildings at Midway Atoll (Finkelstein 2006), and (7% of chicks on Sand Island fail to fledge from lead poisoning each year, with a predicted impact of 16% reduction in population size over the course of 50 years equating to 190,000 less birds, Finkelstein et al. 2010).. Avian pox virus affects chicks on Midway and the Main Hawaiian Islands where introduced mosquitoes are present, but studies on O'ahu colonies show that fledging success was not reduced (Young and VanderWerf 2008). Dogs kill adults and chicks on inhabited islands in Hawaii. Verbesina encelioides is an aggressive weed that degrades nesting habitat in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and introduced predators (notably the Polynesian Rat Rattus exulans [Jones et al. 2008]) are an issue for colonies in Mexico and on the Main Hawaiian Islands. In 2002, observations on Clarion Island, Mexico reported zero breeding success from the 46 nesting pairs, largely as a result of predation by several endemic species (eg. Clarion raven Corvus corax clarionensis and Clarion racer Masticophis anthonyi, Wanless et al. 2009). Observations from Guadalupe Island, Mexico, in December 2002 recorded 35 out of 490 adults killed by cats (7% of the total island breeding population that year, and 30% of the Punta Sur colony) (Keitt et al. 2006). Cats were also responsible for a tripling in nest failure rate at this colony (49%) compared with the nearby cat free Negro Islet colony (13%) (Keitt et al. 2006). Cat control around the colony from Jan-Mar 2003 removed 18 cats and curtailed adult mortality from cat predation, although cats continued to be seen around the colony after the breeding season ended (Keitt et al. 2006). It is likely that the population here had not experienced high levels of predation prior to 2002, as it would have been extirpated.

Conservation Actions Underway
All of the major Hawaiian breeding localities are part of the US National Wildlife Refuge system or State of Hawaii Seabird Sanctuaries and, in 2006, the Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument was established, encompassing all of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Three breeding sites, supporting over 90% of the breeding population, are either counted directly or sampled at regular intervals. In 1991, a 50 Nautical Mile Protected Species Zone was established around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (primarily to protect monk seals). No longline fishing is allowed in this zone. Awareness programmes and mitigation trials have been started in several major longline fleets operating within the foraging range of this species. The Hawaiian longline fishing fleet is required to use measures to reduce bycatch of seabirds. In 2006, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission adopted a measure to require large longline vessels to use at least two seabird bycatch mitigation measures when fishing north of 23 degrees North. Predator control programs are conducted at colonies in Mexico and the Main Hawaiian Islands. Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue monitoring population trends and demographic parameters. Continue satellite-tracking studies to assess temporal and spatial overlap with longline fisheries. Adopt best-practice mitigation measures in longline fisheries within the species's range. Continue and enhance awareness programmes in all longline fleets. Re-evaluate the location of the current boundary (23o N) for required use of seabird mitigation measures in the U.S. pelagic longline fisheries (Naughton et al. 2007). Continue and enhance control/eradication programs for Verbesina in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and introduced predators in Hawaii and Mexico. Continue and enhance lead-based paint removal from sites (e.g. USWFS 2005-2008 efforts to remove paint from c. 14 out of 95 structures with lead-based paint on Sand Island; Finkelstein et al. 2010).

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.

Crowder, L. B.; Myers, R. A. 2002. A comprehensive study of the ecological impacts of worldwide pelagic longline fishing industry.

Edwards, A. E.; Parrish, J. K. 2008. Laysan Albatross reproductive success is linked to foraging location. Abstracts, 35th Annual Meeting of the Pacific Seabird Group, Blaine, Washington, 27 Feb - 2 Mar 2008, pp. 62. Pacific Seabird Group, Little River, CA, USA.

Fernandez, P.; Anderson, D. J.; Sievert, P. R.; Huyvaert, K. P. 2001. Foraging destinations of three low-latitude albatross (Phoebastria) species. Journal of Zoology (London) 254: 391-404.

Finkelstein, M. 2006. Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge lead poisoning of Laysan Albatross chicks: 2006 summary report.

Finkelstein, M. E.; Gwiazda, R. H.; Smith, D. R. 2003. Lead poisoning of seabirds: environmental risks from leaded paint at a decommissioned military base. Environmental Science and Technology 37: 3256-3260.

Flint, E. 2007. Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge - annual nest counts through hatch year 2007.

Gilman, E.; Freifeld, H. 2003. Seabird mortality in North Pacific longline fisheries. Endangered Species Update 20: 35-46.

Harrison, C. S. 1990. Seabirds of Hawaii: natural history and conservation. Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London.

Hyrenbach, K. D.; Fernez, P.; Anderson, D. J. 2002. Oceanographic habitats of two sympatric North Pacific albatrosses during the breeding season. Marine Ecology Progress Series 233: 283-301.

Johnson, D. H.; Shaffer, T. L.; Gould, P. J. 1993. Incidental catch of marine birds in the north Pacific high seas driftnet fisheries in 1990. North Pacific Fisheries Commission Bulletin 53: 473-483.

Jones, H.P., Tershy, B.R., Zavaleta, E.S., Croll, D.A., Keitt, B.S., Finkelstein, M.E. and Howald, G.R. 2008. Severity of the effects of invasive rats on seabirds: a global review. Conservation Biology 22(1): 16-26.

Keitt, B. S.; Henry, R. W.; Aguirre, A.; Garcia, C.; Mendoza, L. L.; Hermosillo, M. A.; Tershy, B.; Croll, D. 2006. Impacts of introduced cats (Felis catus) on the Guadalupe island ecosystem. In: Prado, G. K. S., Peters, E. (ed.), Taller sobre la restauración y conservación de Isla Guadalupe: memorias., pp. 10. Instituto Nacional de Ecología, Mexico City.

Ludwig, J. P.; Summer, C. L.; Auman, H. J.; Gauger, V.; Bromley, D.; Giesey, J. P.; Rolland, R.; Colborn, T. 1998. The roles of organochlorinc contaminants and fisheries bycatch in recent population changes of Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses in the north Pacific Ocean. In: Robertson, G.; Gales, R. (ed.), Albatross biology and conservation, pp. 225-238. Surrey Beatty, Sydney.

Naughton, M. B; Romano, M. D.; Zimmerman, T. S. 2007. A Conservation Action Plan for Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) and Laysan Albatross (P. immutabilis).

Pitman, R. L.; Walker, W. A.; Everett, W. T.; Gallo-Reynoso, J. P. 2004. Population status, foods and foraging of Laysan Albatrosses Phoebastria immutabilis nesting on Guadalupe Island, Mexico. Marine Ornithology 32: 159-165.

Shaffer, S.; Costa, D.; Suryan, R.; Hyrenbach, D. 2004. North Pacific: breeding and non-breeding (including post-breeding). In: BirdLife International (ed.), Tracking ocean wanderers: the global distribution of albatrosses and petrels, pp. 47-49. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Sievert, P. R.; Sileo, L. 2008. The effects of ingested plastic on growth and survival of albatross chicks. In: Vermeer, K.; Briggs, K. T.;Morgan, K. H.; Siegal-Causey, D. (ed.), The Status, Ecology, and Conservation of Marine Birds of the North Pacific, pp. 212-217. Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada.

Stehn, R. A.; Rivera, K. S.; Fitzgerald, S.; Whol, K. D. 2001. Incidental catch of seabirds by longline fisheries in Alaska. In: Melvin, E.F.; Parrish, J.K. (ed.), Seabird bycatch: trends, roadblocks and solutions, pp. 61-77. University of Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Tickell, W. L. N. 2000. Albatrosses. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, UK.

VanderWerf, E. A.; Swindle, K. A.; Young, L.C. 2005. Pox virus in Laysan Albatross chicks at Ka'ena Point, O'ahu: how can we help? 'Elepaio 65: 1,6.

Wanless, R. M.; Aguirre-Muñoz, A.; Angel, A.; Jacobsen, J. K.; Keitt, B. S.; McCann, J. 2009. Birds of Clarion Island, Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 121(4): 745-751.

Young, L. C.; Vanderwerf, E. A. 2008. Prevalence of avian pox virus and effect on the fledging success of Laysan Albatross. Journal of Field Ornithology 79(1): 93-98.

Young, L. C.; Vanderwerf, E. A.; Smith, D. G.; Polhemus, J.; Swenson, N.; Swenson, C.; Liesemeyer, B. R.; Gagne, B. H.; Conant, S. 2009. Demography and natural history of Laysan Albatross on Oahu, Hawaii. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 121(4): 722-729.

Young, L.C.; Zaun, B. J.; VanderWerf, E. A. 2008. Successful same-sex pairing in Laysan Albatross. Biology Letters 4: 323-325.

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

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

Flint, B., Gilman, E., Lewison, R., Mitchell, L., Nisbet, I., Rivera, K., Shaffer, S. & Young, L.

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

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Phoebastria immutabilis. Downloaded from on 20/04/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 20/04/2014.

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 - Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)
Species name author (Rothschild, 1893)
Population size 1180000 mature individuals
Population trend Stable
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 3,500 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species