Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta): uplist from Near Threatened to Vulnerable?

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 2017 Red List update this post remains open and the date of posting has been updated.

BirdLife species factsheet for 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

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4 Responses to Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta): uplist from Near Threatened to Vulnerable?

  1. Thalassarche cauta (shy albatross) is in decline. A five-year review of Australia’s National recovery plan for threatened albatrosses and giant petrels 2011-16 reported: ‘The conservation trajectory of shy albatross is declining globally, based on improved population data, and this trend is unlikely to reverse unless incidental mortalities during fishing operations are significantly reduced, and disease and other breeding site pressures are also reduced’ (Commonwealth of Australia, 2016). Fishing-related mortalities affecting shy albatross are well-recognised (Alderman et al., 2011), disease outbreaks (as occurred in 2002) continue to threaten the shy albatross colony on Albatross Island (Wang et al., 2014), shy albatross compete poorly for nesting space on Pedra Branca against growing numbers of Morus serrator (Australasian gannet) (Alderman et al., 2011) with potential breeding pairs declining from about 350 in 2005 to about 140 in 2015 (ACAP, 2016), and threats due to climate change are becoming evident (Thompson et al., 2015). In light of the information provided in the nomination, and the information above, the shy albatross appears to qualify for uplisting to Vulnerable against the stated criterion.

    Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (2016). ACAP species assessments: shy albatross Thalassarche cauta. Unpublished data.
    Alderman R, Gales R, Hobday AJ and Candy SG (2011). Global population status of shy albatross and assessment of colony-specific trends and drivers. Wildlife Research 38, 672 686.
    Commonwealth of Australia (2016). Review of national recovery plan for threatened albatrosses and giant petrels 2011-2016. Department of the Environment. Canberra. 138p.
    Thompson RB, Alderman RL, Tuck GN and Hobday AJ (2015). Effects of climate change and fisheries bycatch on shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta) in southern Australia. PLos ONE 10(6): e0127006. Doi: 10.1371/jopurnal.pone.0127006.
    Wang J, Selleck P, Yu M, Ha W, Rootes C, Gales R, Wise T, Crameri S, Chen H, Broz I, Hyatt A, Woods R, Meehan B, McCullough S, and Wang L (2014). Novel Phlebovirus with zoonotic potential isolated from ticks, Australia. Emerging Infectious Diseases 20(6), 1040 1043.

  2. Barry Baker says:

    While I think the evidence is clear that the Albatross Island population of shy albatross has declined over the last 10 years, the lack of any obvious negative trend for the larger Mewstone population makes it difficult to achieve qualification for Vulnerable against the stated criterion of A2bde, A3bde or A4bde. I find it difficult to draw the conclusion that the entire population has declined, or can be projected to decline, by 30% without good evidence that the large Mewstone has been similarly impacted to that of Albatross Island.

    Incidental mortality in trawl and longline gear remains a serious threat for all three populations of shy albatross but the severity of this threat has been greatly reduced in Australian waters where the bulk of the population is largely resident. Longline bycatch has been significantly reduced since the implementation of Australia’s Threat Abatement Plan, uptake of mandatory mitigation measures and reductions in fishing activity. In addition, Australian trawl fisheries in southern Australia have recently introduced mitigation measures that should significantly reduce (but not eliminate) bycatch in that gear type in the near future. Further, the level of bycatch estimated for shy albatross in Thomson et al. (2014) assumed that all birds observed killed were shy albatrosses and none were the essentially morphologically indistinguishable white-capped albatross (Thalassarche steadi). This assumption is almost certainly incorrect, as unpublished tracking data for white-capped albatross show that white-capped albatrosses forage extensively across the Tasman sea and around south-eastern Australia when breeding (Thompson et al. 2011). At other times the majority of birds remained in Australasia year-round (Thompson et al. 2011). In addition, Abbott et al (2006) found 32% of longline caught shy-type albatrosses in Tasmanian waters were white-capped albatrosses. Thus modelling projections may well have over-estimated the impact of bycatch mortality.

    If it is accepted that significant reductions in bycatch have been and are likely to be achieved through changes in fishing practices within Australian waters, then it may be premature to list shy albatross as Vulnerable at this stage. Thomson et al (2014) suggest that mitigation by fisheries must achieve at least a 50% reduction in bycatch rate in order to offset losses due to predicted future rainfall and temperature – I feel it is reasonable to expect that such reductions will be achieved. If no measurable change in bycatch has occurred within the next few years, then reassessment of conservation status at that time would be appropriate. At that time, the trend of the Mewstone population may also be better known.

    BirdLife Australia currently runs a comprehensive and ongoing review of the conservation status of all Australian birds through its Threatened Species Committee. This committee has not considered the status of shy albatross since the production of the Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010 (Garnett et al. 2011). It would be appropriate for the views of this committee to be sought before making a decision to upgrade the status of this species, but time may not permit this occur under the tight deadlines of the current process. Similarly, the views of ACAP’s Population and Conservation Status Working Group would also be useful.


    Abbott C, Double M, Gales R, Baker GB, Lashko A, Robertson CJR, et al. 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

    Thompson, D., Sagar, P. and Torres, L. 2011. A population and distributional study of white-capped albatross (Auckland Islands) Contract Number: POP 2005/02. Report prepared for the Conservation Services Programme, Department of Conservation. National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research, Wellington, New Zealand.

  3. The ACAP Population and Conservation Status Working Group has not been able to discuss this new proposal in the timeframe allocated in the present forum and is therefore unable to comment either in favour of, or against uplisting this species to Vulnerable at this time.

  4. James Westrip (BirdLife) says:

    Based on available information, our proposal for the 2016 Red List would be to pend the decision on this species and keep this discussion open until 2017, while leaving the current Red List category unchanged in the 2016 update.

    Final 2016 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

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