Albatross
Overview
Albatrosses, of the biological family
Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

 Diomedeidae, are large seabird
Seabird
Seabirds are birds that have adapted to life within the marine environment. While seabirds vary greatly in lifestyle, behaviour and physiology, they often exhibit striking convergent evolution, as the same environmental problems and feeding niches have resulted in similar adaptations...

s allied to the procellariids
Procellariidae
The family Procellariidae is a group of seabirds that comprises the fulmarine petrels, the gadfly petrels, the prions, and the shearwaters. This family is part of the bird order Procellariiformes , which also includes the albatrosses, the storm-petrels, and the diving petrels.The procellariids are...

, storm-petrel
Storm-petrel
Storm petrels are seabirds in the family Hydrobatidae, part of the order Procellariiformes. These smallest of seabirds feed on planktonic crustaceans and small fish picked from the surface, typically while hovering. The flight is fluttering and sometimes bat-like.Storm petrels have a cosmopolitan...

s and diving-petrels in the order Procellariiformes
Procellariiformes
Procellariiformes is an order of seabirds that comprises four families: the albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, storm petrels, and diving petrels...

 (the tubenoses). They range widely in the Southern Ocean
Southern Ocean
The Southern Ocean comprises the southernmost waters of the World Ocean, generally taken to be south of 60°S latitude and encircling Antarctica. It is usually regarded as the fourth-largest of the five principal oceanic divisions...

 and the North Pacific
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

. They are absent from the North Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

, although fossil
Fossil
Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals , plants, and other organisms from the remote past...

 remains show they once occurred there too and occasional vagrants
Vagrancy (biology)
Vagrancy is a phenomenon in biology whereby individual animals appear well outside their normal range; individual animals which exhibit vagrancy are known as vagrants. The term accidental is sometimes also used...

 are found.

Albatrosses are among the largest of flying
Bird flight
Flight is the main mode of locomotion used by most of the world's bird species. Flight assists birds while feeding, breeding and avoiding predators....

 birds, and the great albatross
Great albatross
The great albatrosses are seabirds in the genus Diomedea in the albatross family. The genus Diomedea formerly included all albatrosses except the sooty albatrosses, but in 1996 the genus was split with the mollymawks and the North Pacific albatrosses both being elevated to separate genera...

es (genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Diomedea) have the largest wingspans of any extant birds.
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Albatrosses, of the biological family
Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

 Diomedeidae, are large seabird
Seabird
Seabirds are birds that have adapted to life within the marine environment. While seabirds vary greatly in lifestyle, behaviour and physiology, they often exhibit striking convergent evolution, as the same environmental problems and feeding niches have resulted in similar adaptations...

s allied to the procellariids
Procellariidae
The family Procellariidae is a group of seabirds that comprises the fulmarine petrels, the gadfly petrels, the prions, and the shearwaters. This family is part of the bird order Procellariiformes , which also includes the albatrosses, the storm-petrels, and the diving petrels.The procellariids are...

, storm-petrel
Storm-petrel
Storm petrels are seabirds in the family Hydrobatidae, part of the order Procellariiformes. These smallest of seabirds feed on planktonic crustaceans and small fish picked from the surface, typically while hovering. The flight is fluttering and sometimes bat-like.Storm petrels have a cosmopolitan...

s and diving-petrels in the order Procellariiformes
Procellariiformes
Procellariiformes is an order of seabirds that comprises four families: the albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, storm petrels, and diving petrels...

 (the tubenoses). They range widely in the Southern Ocean
Southern Ocean
The Southern Ocean comprises the southernmost waters of the World Ocean, generally taken to be south of 60°S latitude and encircling Antarctica. It is usually regarded as the fourth-largest of the five principal oceanic divisions...

 and the North Pacific
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

. They are absent from the North Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

, although fossil
Fossil
Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals , plants, and other organisms from the remote past...

 remains show they once occurred there too and occasional vagrants
Vagrancy (biology)
Vagrancy is a phenomenon in biology whereby individual animals appear well outside their normal range; individual animals which exhibit vagrancy are known as vagrants. The term accidental is sometimes also used...

 are found.

Albatrosses are among the largest of flying
Bird flight
Flight is the main mode of locomotion used by most of the world's bird species. Flight assists birds while feeding, breeding and avoiding predators....

 birds, and the great albatross
Great albatross
The great albatrosses are seabirds in the genus Diomedea in the albatross family. The genus Diomedea formerly included all albatrosses except the sooty albatrosses, but in 1996 the genus was split with the mollymawks and the North Pacific albatrosses both being elevated to separate genera...

es (genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Diomedea) have the largest wingspans of any extant birds. The albatrosses are usually regarded as falling into four genera, but there is disagreement over the number of species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

.

Albatrosses are highly efficient in the air, using dynamic soaring
Dynamic soaring
Dynamic soaring is a flying technique used to gain energy by repeatedly crossing the boundary between air masses of significantly different velocity...

 and slope soaring to cover great distances with little exertion. They feed on squid
Squid
Squid are cephalopods of the order Teuthida, which comprises around 300 species. Like all other cephalopods, squid have a distinct head, bilateral symmetry, a mantle, and arms. Squid, like cuttlefish, have eight arms arranged in pairs and two, usually longer, tentacles...

, fish
Fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

 and krill
Krill
Krill is the common name given to the order Euphausiacea of shrimp-like marine crustaceans. Also known as euphausiids, these small invertebrates are found in all oceans of the world...

 by either scavenging, surface seizing or diving. Albatrosses are colonial
Bird colony
A bird colony is a large congregation of individuals of one or more species of bird that nest or roost in close proximity at a particular location. Many kinds of birds are known to congregate in groups of varying size; a congregation of nesting birds is called a breeding colony...

, nesting for the most part on remote oceanic islands, often with several species nesting together. Pair bond
Pair bond
In biology, a pair bond is the strong affinity that develops in some species between the males and females in a pair, potentially leading to breeding. Pair-bonding is a term coined in the 1940s that is frequently used in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology circles...

s between males and females form over several years, with the use of 'ritualised dances', and will last for the life of the pair. A breeding season
Breeding season
The breeding season is the most suitable season, usually with favourable conditions and abundant food and water, for breeding among some wild animals and birds . Species with a breeding season have naturally evolved to have sexual intercourse during a certain time of year in order to achieve the...

 can take over a year from laying to fledging
Fledge
Fledge is the stage in a young bird's life when the feathers and wing muscles are sufficiently developed for flight. It also describes the act of a chick's parents raising it to a fully grown state...

, with a single egg
Egg (biology)
An egg is an organic vessel in which an embryo first begins to develop. In most birds, reptiles, insects, molluscs, fish, and monotremes, an egg is the zygote, resulting from fertilization of the ovum, which is expelled from the body and permitted to develop outside the body until the developing...

 laid in each breeding attempt. A Laysan albatross, named "Wisdom" on Midway Island is recognized as the oldest wild bird in the world; she was first banded in 1956 by Chandler Robbins.

Of the 21 species of albatrosses recognised by the IUCN
World Conservation Union
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources is an international organization dedicated to finding "pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges." The organization publishes the IUCN Red List, compiling information from a network of...

, 19 are threatened with extinction
Extinction
In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms , normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point...

. Numbers of albatrosses have declined in the past due to harvesting for feather
Feather
Feathers are one of the epidermal growths that form the distinctive outer covering, or plumage, on birds and some non-avian theropod dinosaurs. They are considered the most complex integumentary structures found in vertebrates, and indeed a premier example of a complex evolutionary novelty. They...

s, but today the albatrosses are threatened by introduced species
Introduced species
An introduced species — or neozoon, alien, exotic, non-indigenous, or non-native species, or simply an introduction, is a species living outside its indigenous or native distributional range, and has arrived in an ecosystem or plant community by human activity, either deliberate or accidental...

 such as rat
Rat
Rats are various medium-sized, long-tailed rodents of the superfamily Muroidea. "True rats" are members of the genus Rattus, the most important of which to humans are the black rat, Rattus rattus, and the brown rat, Rattus norvegicus...

s and feral cat
Feral cat
A feral cat is a descendant of a domesticated cat that has returned to the wild. It is distinguished from a stray cat, which is a pet cat that has been lost or abandoned, while feral cats are born in the wild; the offspring of a stray cat can be considered feral if born in the wild.In many parts of...

s that attack eggs, chicks and nesting adults; by pollution
Pollution
Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into a natural environment that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem i.e. physical systems or living organisms. Pollution can take the form of chemical substances or energy, such as noise, heat or light...

; by a serious decline in fish stocks in many regions largely due to overfishing
Overfishing
Overfishing occurs when fishing activities reduce fish stocks below an acceptable level. This can occur in any body of water from a pond to the oceans....

; and by long-line fishing
Long-line fishing
Longline fishing is a commercial fishing technique. It uses a long line, called the main line, with baited hooks attached at intervals by means of branch lines called "snoods". A snood is a short length of line, attached to the main line using a clip or swivel, with the hook at the other end....

. Long-line fisheries pose the greatest threat, as feeding birds are attracted to the bait
Bait (luring substance)
Bait is any substance used to attract prey, e.g. in a mousetrap.-In Australia:Baiting in Australia refers to specific campaigns to control foxes, wild dogs and dingos by poisoning in areas where they are a problem...

, become hooked on the lines, and drown. Identified stakeholders such as governments, conservation organisations and people in the fishing industry are all working toward reducing this bycatch
Bycatch
The term “bycatch” is usually used for fish caught unintentionally in a fishery while intending to catch other fish. It may however also indicate untargeted catch in other forms of animal harvesting or collecting...

.

Taxonomy and evolution

The albatrosses comprise between 13 and 24 species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 (the number of species is still a matter of some debate, 21 being the most commonly accepted number) in 4 genera. The four genera are the great albatross
Great albatross
The great albatrosses are seabirds in the genus Diomedea in the albatross family. The genus Diomedea formerly included all albatrosses except the sooty albatrosses, but in 1996 the genus was split with the mollymawks and the North Pacific albatrosses both being elevated to separate genera...

es (Diomedea), the mollymawk
Mollymawk
The mollymawks are a group of medium sized albatrosses that form the genus Thalassarche. The name has sometimes been used for the genus Phoebetria as well, but these are correctly called sooty albatrosses. They are restricted to the Southern Hemisphere, where they are the most common of the...

s (Thalassarche), the North Pacific albatross
North Pacific albatross
The North Pacific albatrosses are large seabirds from the genus Phoebastria in the albatross family. They are the most tropical of the albatrosses, with two species nesting in North Western Hawaiian island chain, one on sub-tropical islands south of Japan , and one nesting on the equator The North...

es (Phoebastria), and the sooty albatross
Sooty albatross
The sooty albatrosses are small albatrosses from the genus Phoebetria. There are two species, the Sooty Albatross, Phoebetria fusca, and the Light-mantled Albatross, Phoebetria palpebrata...

es or sooties (Phoebetria). Of the four genera, the North Pacific albatrosses are considered to be a sister taxon to the great albatrosses, while the sooty albatrosses are considered closer to the mollymawks.

The taxonomy
Taxonomy
Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species, and arranging them into a classification. The field of taxonomy, sometimes referred to as "biological taxonomy", revolves around the description and use of taxonomic units, known as taxa...

 of the albatross group has been a source of a great deal of debate. The Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy
Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy
The Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy is a bird taxonomy proposed by Charles Sibley and Jon Edward Ahlquist. It is based on DNA-DNA hybridization studies conducted in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s....

 places seabirds, birds of prey
Bird of prey
Birds of prey are birds that hunt for food primarily on the wing, using their keen senses, especially vision. They are defined as birds that primarily hunt vertebrates, including other birds. Their talons and beaks tend to be relatively large, powerful and adapted for tearing and/or piercing flesh....

 and many others in a greatly enlarged order Ciconiiformes
Ciconiiformes
Traditionally, the order Ciconiiformes has included a variety of large, long-legged wading birds with large bills: storks, herons, egrets, ibises, spoonbills, and several others. Ciconiiformes are known from the Late Eocene...

, whereas the ornithological organisations in North America, Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand retain the more traditional order Procellariiformes
Procellariiformes
Procellariiformes is an order of seabirds that comprises four families: the albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, storm petrels, and diving petrels...

. The albatrosses can be separated from the other Procellariiformes both genetically
Genetics
Genetics , a discipline of biology, is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms....

 and through morphological characteristics, size, their legs and the arrangement of their nasal tubes (see Morphology and flight).

Within the family the assignment of genera has been debated for over a hundred years. Originally placed into a single genus, Diomedea, they were rearranged by Reichenbach
Ludwig Reichenbach
Heinrich Gottlieb Ludwig Reichenbach was a German botanist and ornithologist.He was the son of Johann Friedrich Jakob Reichenbach, the author in 1818 of the first Greek-German dictionary. He was the father of Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach, equally a botanist and an eminent orchid...

 into four different genera in 1852, then lumped back together and split apart
Lumpers and splitters
Lumping and splitting refers to a well-known problem in any discipline which has to place individual examples into rigorously defined categories. The lumper/splitter problem occurs when there is the need to create classifications and assign examples to them, for example schools of literature,...

 again several times, acquiring 12 different genus names in total (though never more than eight at one time) by 1965 (Diomedea, Phoebastria, Thalassarche, Phoebetria, Thalassageron, Diomedella, Nealbatrus, Rhothonia, Julietata, Galapagornis, Laysanornis, and Penthirenia).

By 1965, in an attempt to bring some order back to the classification of albatrosses, they were lumped into two genera, Phoebetria (the sooty albatrosses which most closely seemed to resemble the procellarids and were at the time considered "primitive" ) and Diomedea (the rest). Though there was a case for the simplification of the family (particularly the nomenclature), the classification was based on the morphological analysis of Elliott Coues
Elliott Coues
Elliott Coues was an American army surgeon, historian, ornithologist and author.Coues was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He graduated at Columbian University, Washington, D.C., in 1861, and at the Medical school of that institution in 1863...

 in 1866, and paid little attention to more recent studies and even ignored some of Coues's suggestions.

More recent research by Gary Nunn of the American Museum of Natural History
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History , located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, United States, is one of the largest and most celebrated museums in the world...

 (1996) and other researchers around the world studied the mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles called mitochondria, structures within eukaryotic cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate...

 of all 14 accepted species, finding that there were four, not two, monophyletic groups within the albatrosses. They proposed the resurrection of two of the old genus names, Phoebastria for the North Pacific albatrosses and Thalassarche for the mollymawks, with the great albatrosses retaining Diomedea and the sooty albatrosses staying in Phoebetria. Both the British Ornithologists' Union
British Ornithologists' Union
The British Ornithologists' Union aims to encourage the study of birds in Britain, Europe and elsewhere, in order to understand their biology and to aid their conservation....

 and the South African authorities split the albatrosses into four genera as Nunn suggested, and the change has been accepted by the majority of researchers.

While there is some agreement on the number of genera, there is less agreement on the number of species. Historically, up to 80 different taxa have been described by different researchers; most of these were incorrectly identified juvenile birds.

Based on the work on albatross genera, Robertson and Nunn went on in 1998 to propose a revised taxonomy with 24 different species, compared to the 14 then accepted. This interim taxonomy elevated many established subspecies
Subspecies
Subspecies in biological classification, is either a taxonomic rank subordinate to species, ora taxonomic unit in that rank . A subspecies cannot be recognized in isolation: a species will either be recognized as having no subspecies at all or two or more, never just one...

 to full species, but was criticised for not using, in every case, peer review
Peer review
Peer review is a process of self-regulation by a profession or a process of evaluation involving qualified individuals within the relevant field. Peer review methods are employed to maintain standards, improve performance and provide credibility...

ed information to justify the splits. Since then further studies have in some instances supported or disproved the splits; a 2004 paper analysing the mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles called mitochondria, structures within eukaryotic cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate...

 and microsatellites agreed with the conclusion that the Antipodean Albatross
Antipodean Albatross
The Antipodean Albatross, Diomedea antipodensis, is a large seabird, from the albatross family. Antipodean Albatrosses are smaller than Wandering Albatrosses, and breed in predominantly brown plumage, but are otherwise difficult to distinguish from Wanderers.-Etymology:Diomedea antipodensis breaks...

 and the Tristan Albatross
Tristan Albatross
The Tristan Albatross, Diomedea dabbenena, is a large seabird from the albatross family. One of the great albatrosses of the genus Diomedea, it was only widely recognised as a full species in 1998.-Taxonomy:...

 were distinct from the Wandering Albatross
Wandering Albatross
The Wandering Albatross, Snowy Albatross or White-winged Albatross, Diomedea exulans, is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean. It was the first species of albatross to be described, and was long considered the same species as the Tristan...

, per Robertson and Nunn, but found that the suggested Gibson's Albatross, Diomedea gibsoni, was not distinct from the Antipodean Albatross. For the most part, an interim taxonomy of 21 species is accepted by the IUCN and many other researchers, though by no means all—in 2004 Penhallurick and Wink called for the number of species to be reduced to 13 (including the lumping of the Amsterdam Albatross
Amsterdam Albatross
The Amsterdam Albatross or Amsterdam Island Albatross, Diomedea amsterdamensis, is a huge albatross which breeds only on Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean. It was only described in 1983, and was thought by some researchers to be a sub-species of the Wandering Albatross, exulans...

 with the Wandering Albatross
Wandering Albatross
The Wandering Albatross, Snowy Albatross or White-winged Albatross, Diomedea exulans, is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean. It was the first species of albatross to be described, and was long considered the same species as the Tristan...

), although this paper was itself controversial. On all sides, there is the widespread agreement on the need for further research to clarify the issue.

Sibley and Ahlquist's
Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy
The Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy is a bird taxonomy proposed by Charles Sibley and Jon Edward Ahlquist. It is based on DNA-DNA hybridization studies conducted in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s....

 molecular study of the evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

 of the bird families has put the radiation
Adaptive radiation
In evolutionary biology, adaptive radiation is the evolution of ecological and phenotypic diversity within a rapidly multiplying lineage. Starting with a recent single ancestor, this process results in the speciation and phenotypic adaptation of an array of species exhibiting different...

 of the Procellariiformes
Procellariiformes
Procellariiformes is an order of seabirds that comprises four families: the albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, storm petrels, and diving petrels...

 in the Oligocene
Oligocene
The Oligocene is a geologic epoch of the Paleogene Period and extends from about 34 million to 23 million years before the present . As with other older geologic periods, the rock beds that define the period are well identified but the exact dates of the start and end of the period are slightly...

 period (35–30 million years ago), though this group probably originated earlier, with a fossil
Fossil
Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals , plants, and other organisms from the remote past...

 sometimes attributed to the order, a seabird known as Tytthostonyx
Tytthostonyx
Tytthostonyx is a genus of prehistoric seabird. Found in the much-debated Hornerstown Formation which straddles the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary 65 million years ago, this animal was apparently closely related to the ancestor of some modern birds, such as Procellariiformes and/or "Pelecaniformes"...

, being found in late Cretaceous
Cretaceous
The Cretaceous , derived from the Latin "creta" , usually abbreviated K for its German translation Kreide , is a geologic period and system from circa to million years ago. In the geologic timescale, the Cretaceous follows the Jurassic period and is followed by the Paleogene period of the...

 rocks (70 mya). The molecular evidence suggests that the storm-petrels were the first to diverge from the ancestral stock, and the albatrosses next, with the procellarids and diving petrels separating later. The earliest fossil albatrosses were found in Eocene
Eocene
The Eocene Epoch, lasting from about 56 to 34 million years ago , is a major division of the geologic timescale and the second epoch of the Paleogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Eocene spans the time from the end of the Palaeocene Epoch to the beginning of the Oligocene Epoch. The start of the...

 to Oligocene rocks, although some of these are only tentatively assigned to the family and none appear to be particularly close to the living forms. They are Murunkus (Middle Eocene of Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan , officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of the six independent Turkic states. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south....

), Manu
Manu (genus)
Manu is a genus of prehistoric seabird. It lived during the Early Oligocene, and is known from a few fossil bones found in New Zealand. Its name derives from the Māori language, and is the common Polynesian term for "bird"....

 (early Oligocene of New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

), and an undescribed form from the Late Oligocene of South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

. Similar to the last was Plotornis, formerly often considered a petrel but now accepted as an albatross. It is from the Middle Miocene
Miocene
The Miocene is a geological epoch of the Neogene Period and extends from about . The Miocene was named by Sir Charles Lyell. Its name comes from the Greek words and and means "less recent" because it has 18% fewer modern sea invertebrates than the Pliocene. The Miocene follows the Oligocene...

 of France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, a time when the split between the four modern genera was already underway as evidenced by Phoebastria californica and Diomedea milleri, both being mid-Miocene species from Sharktooth Hill, California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

. These show that the split between the great albatrosses and the North Pacific albatrosses occurred by 15 mya. Similar fossil finds in the southern hemisphere put the split between the sooties and mollymawks at 10 mya.
The fossil record of the albatrosses in the northern hemisphere is more complete than that of the southern, and many fossil forms of albatross have been found in the North Atlantic, which today has no albatrosses. The remains of a colony of Short-tailed Albatross
Short-tailed Albatross
The Short-tailed Albatross or Steller's Albatross, Phoebastria albatrus, is a large rare seabird from the North Pacific. Although related to the other North Pacific albatrosses, it also exhibits behavioural and morphological links to the albatrosses of the Southern Ocean...

es have been uncovered on the island of Bermuda
Bermuda
Bermuda is a British overseas territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. Located off the east coast of the United States, its nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about to the west-northwest. It is about south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and northeast of Miami, Florida...

, and the majority of fossil albatrosses from the North Atlantic have been of the genus Phoebastria (the North Pacific albatrosses); one, Phoebastria anglica, has been found in deposits in both North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

 and England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. Due to convergent evolution
Convergent evolution
Convergent evolution describes the acquisition of the same biological trait in unrelated lineages.The wing is a classic example of convergent evolution in action. Although their last common ancestor did not have wings, both birds and bats do, and are capable of powered flight. The wings are...

 in particular of the leg and foot bones, remains of the prehistoric pseudotooth birds (Pelagornithidae) may be mistaken for those of extinct albatrosses; Manu may be such a case, and quite certainly the supposed giant albatross femur
Femur
The femur , or thigh bone, is the most proximal bone of the leg in tetrapod vertebrates capable of walking or jumping, such as most land mammals, birds, many reptiles such as lizards, and amphibians such as frogs. In vertebrates with four legs such as dogs and horses, the femur is found only in...

 from the Early Pleistocene
Early Pleistocene
Calabrian is a subdivision of the Pleistocene Epoch of the Geologic time scale. ~1.8 Ma.—781,000 years ago ± 5,000 years, a period of ~.The end of the stage is defined by the last magnetic pole reversal and plunge in to an ice age and global drying possibly colder and drier than the late Miocene ...

 Dainichi Formation
Dainichi Formation
The Dainichi Formation is a palaeontological formation located in Japan. It dates to the Upper Pliocene period....

 at Kakegawa (Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

) actually is from one of the last pseudotooth birds. For more data on fossil species of the living albatross genera, see the genus articles.

Morphology and flight

The albatrosses are a group of large to very large bird
Bird
Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

s; they are the largest of the procellariiformes. The bill
Beak
The beak, bill or rostrum is an external anatomical structure of birds which is used for eating and for grooming, manipulating objects, killing prey, fighting, probing for food, courtship and feeding young...

 is large, strong and sharp-edged, the upper mandible terminating in a large hook. This bill is composed of several horny plates, and along the sides are the two "tubes", long nostrils that give the order
Order (biology)
In scientific classification used in biology, the order is# a taxonomic rank used in the classification of organisms. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, family, genus, and species, with order fitting in between class and family...

 its former name. The tubes of all albatrosses are along the sides of the bill, unlike the rest of the Procellariiformes
Procellariiformes
Procellariiformes is an order of seabirds that comprises four families: the albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, storm petrels, and diving petrels...

 where the tubes run along the top of the bill. These tubes allow the albatrosses to have an acute sense of smell, an unusual ability for birds. Like other Procellariiformes they use this olfactory ability while foraging to locate potential food sources. The feet have no hind toe and the three anterior toes are completely webbed. The legs are strong for Procellariiformes, in fact, almost uniquely amongst the order in that they and the giant petrel
Giant petrel
Giant petrels is a genus, Macronectes, from the family Procellariidae and consist of two species. They are the largest birds from this family...

s are able to walk well on land.
Albatrosses, along with all Procellariiformes
Procellariiformes
Procellariiformes is an order of seabirds that comprises four families: the albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, storm petrels, and diving petrels...

 have a need to lower their salt content due to drinking sea water. All birds have an enlarged nasal gland at the base of the bill, above their eyes. This gland is inactive in species that don't require it, but the Procellariiformes do require its use. Scientists are uncertain as to its exact processes, but do know in general terms that it removes salt that forms a 5% saline solution that drips out of their nose or is forcibly ejected in some birds.

The adult plumage
Plumage
Plumage refers both to the layer of feathers that cover a bird and the pattern, colour, and arrangement of those feathers. The pattern and colours of plumage vary between species and subspecies and can also vary between different age classes, sexes, and season. Within species there can also be a...

 of most of the albatrosses is usually some variation of dark upper-wing and back, white undersides, often compared to that of a gull
Gull
Gulls are birds in the family Laridae. They are most closely related to the terns and only distantly related to auks, skimmers, and more distantly to the waders...

. Of these, the species range from the Southern Royal Albatross
Southern Royal Albatross
The Southern Royal Albatross, Diomedea epomophora, is a large seabird from the albatross family. At an average wingspan of around , it is the second largest albatross, behind the Wandering Albatross.-Taxonomy:...

 which is almost completely white except for the ends and trailing edges of the wings in fully mature males, to the Amsterdam Albatross
Amsterdam Albatross
The Amsterdam Albatross or Amsterdam Island Albatross, Diomedea amsterdamensis, is a huge albatross which breeds only on Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean. It was only described in 1983, and was thought by some researchers to be a sub-species of the Wandering Albatross, exulans...

 which has an almost juvenile-like breeding plumage with a great deal of brown, particularly a strong brown band around the chest. Several species of mollymawk
Mollymawk
The mollymawks are a group of medium sized albatrosses that form the genus Thalassarche. The name has sometimes been used for the genus Phoebetria as well, but these are correctly called sooty albatrosses. They are restricted to the Southern Hemisphere, where they are the most common of the...

s and North Pacific albatross
North Pacific albatross
The North Pacific albatrosses are large seabirds from the genus Phoebastria in the albatross family. They are the most tropical of the albatrosses, with two species nesting in North Western Hawaiian island chain, one on sub-tropical islands south of Japan , and one nesting on the equator The North...

es have face markings like eye patches or have grey or yellow on the head and nape. Three albatross species, the Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
The Black-footed Albatross, Phoebastria nigripes, is a large seabird from the North Pacific of the albatross family Diomedeidae. It is one of three species of albatross that range in the northern hemisphere, nesting on isolated tropical islands...

 and the two sooty albatross
Sooty albatross
The sooty albatrosses are small albatrosses from the genus Phoebetria. There are two species, the Sooty Albatross, Phoebetria fusca, and the Light-mantled Albatross, Phoebetria palpebrata...

es, vary completely from the usual patterns and are almost entirely dark brown (or dark grey in places in the case of the Light-mantled Albatross
Light-mantled Albatross
The Light-mantled Albatross, Phoebetria palpebrata, also known as the Grey-mantled Albatross or the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, is a small albatross in the genus Phoebetria, which it shares with the Sooty Albatross...

). Albatrosses take several years to get their full adult breeding plumage.

The wingspan
Wingspan
The wingspan of an airplane or a bird, is the distance from one wingtip to the other wingtip. For example, the Boeing 777 has a wingspan of about ; and a Wandering Albatross caught in 1965 had a wingspan of , the official record for a living bird.The term wingspan, more technically extent, is...

s of the largest great albatrosses (genus Diomedea) are the largest of any bird, exceeding 340 cm (11.2 ft), although the other species' wingspans are considerably smaller (1.75 m (5.7 ft)). The wings are stiff and cambered, with thickened streamlined leading edges. Albatrosses travel huge distances with two techniques used by many long-winged seabirds, dynamic soaring
Dynamic soaring
Dynamic soaring is a flying technique used to gain energy by repeatedly crossing the boundary between air masses of significantly different velocity...

 and slope soaring. Dynamic soaring involves repeatedly rising into wind and descending downwind thus gaining energy
Energy
In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

 from the vertical wind gradient
Wind gradient
In common usage, wind gradient, more specifically wind speed gradientor wind velocity gradient,or alternatively shear wind,...

. Slope soaring uses the rising air on the windward side of large waves. Albatross have high glide ratios, around 22:1 to 23:1, meaning that for every metre they drop, they can travel forward 22 metres. They are aided in soaring by a shoulder-lock, a sheet of tendon
Tendon
A tendon is a tough band of fibrous connective tissue that usually connects muscle to bone and is capable of withstanding tension. Tendons are similar to ligaments and fasciae as they are all made of collagen except that ligaments join one bone to another bone, and fasciae connect muscles to other...

 that locks the wing when fully extended, allowing the wing to be kept outstretched without any muscle expenditure, a morphological adaptation they share with the giant petrels.

Albatrosses combine these soaring techniques with the use of predictable weather
Weather
Weather is the state of the atmosphere, to the degree that it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy. Most weather phenomena occur in the troposphere, just below the stratosphere. Weather refers, generally, to day-to-day temperature and precipitation activity, whereas climate...

 systems; albatrosses in the southern hemisphere
Southern Hemisphere
The Southern Hemisphere is the part of Earth that lies south of the equator. The word hemisphere literally means 'half ball' or "half sphere"...

 flying north from their colonies will take a clockwise
Clockwise
Circular motion can occur in two possible directions. A clockwise motion is one that proceeds in the same direction as a clock's hands: from the top to the right, then down and then to the left, and back to the top...

 route, and those flying south will fly counterclockwise. Albatrosses are so well adapted to this lifestyle that their heart rate
Heart rate
Heart rate is the number of heartbeats per unit of time, typically expressed as beats per minute . Heart rate can vary as the body's need to absorb oxygen and excrete carbon dioxide changes, such as during exercise or sleep....

s while flying are close to their basal heart rate when resting. This efficiency is such that the most energetically demanding aspect of a foraging trip is not the distance covered, but the landings, take-offs and hunting they undertake having found a food source. This efficient long-distance travelling underlies the albatross's success as a long-distance forager, covering great distances and expending little energy looking for patchily distributed food sources. Their adaptation to gliding flight makes them dependent on wind and waves, however, as their long wings are ill-suited to powered flight and most species lack the muscles and energy to undertake sustained flapping flight. Albatrosses in calm seas are forced to rest on the ocean's surface until the wind picks up again. The North Pacific albatrosses can use a flight style known as flap-gliding, where the bird progresses by bursts of flapping followed by gliding. When taking off, albatrosses need to take a run up to allow enough air to move under the wing to provide lift
Lift (force)
A fluid flowing past the surface of a body exerts a surface force on it. Lift is the component of this force that is perpendicular to the oncoming flow direction. It contrasts with the drag force, which is the component of the surface force parallel to the flow direction...

.

Distribution and range at sea

Most albatrosses range in the southern hemisphere from Antarctica to Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 and South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

. The exceptions to this are the four North Pacific albatrosses, of which three occur exclusively in the North Pacific, from Hawaii to Japan, California and Alaska; and one, the Waved Albatross
Waved Albatross
The Waved Albatross, Phoebastria irrorata - also known as Galapagos Albatross - is the only member of the Diomedeidae family located in the tropics. When they forage, the Waved Albatross follow straight paths to a single site off the coast of Peru, about distant to the east...

, breeds in the Galapagos Islands
Galápagos Islands
The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, west of continental Ecuador, of which they are a part.The Galápagos Islands and its surrounding waters form an Ecuadorian province, a national park, and a...

 and feeds off the coast of South America. The need for wind to enable gliding is the reason albatrosses are for the most part confined to higher latitudes; being unsuited to sustained flapping flight makes crossing the doldrums
Doldrums
The doldrums is a colloquial expression derived from historical maritime usage for those parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm...

 extremely difficult. The exception, the Waved Albatross, is able to live in the equator
Equator
An equator is the intersection of a sphere's surface with the plane perpendicular to the sphere's axis of rotation and containing the sphere's center of mass....

ial waters around the Galapagos Islands because of the cool waters of the Humboldt Current
Humboldt Current
The Humboldt Current , also known as the Peru Current, is a cold, low-salinity ocean current that flows north-westward along the west coast of South America from the southern tip of Chile to northern Peru. It is an eastern boundary current flowing in the direction of the equator, and can extend...

 and the resulting winds.

It is not known for certain why the albatrosses became extinct in the North Atlantic, although rising sea level
Sea level
Mean sea level is a measure of the average height of the ocean's surface ; used as a standard in reckoning land elevation...

s due to an interglacial
Interglacial
An Interglacial period is a geological interval of warmer global average temperature lasting thousands of years that separates consecutive glacial periods within an ice age...

 warming period are thought to have submerged the site of a Short-tailed Albatross colony that has been excavated in Bermuda. Some southern species have occasionally turned up as vagrants in the North Atlantic and can become exiled, remaining there for decades. One of these exiles, a Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
The Black-browed Albatross or Black-browed Mollymawk, Thalassarche melanophrys, is a large seabird of the albatross family Diomedeidae, and it is the most widespread and common albatross.-Taxonomy:...

, returned to gannet
Northern Gannet
The Northern Gannet is a seabird and is the largest member of the gannet family, Sulidae.- Description :Young birds are dark brown in their first year, and gradually acquire more white in subsequent seasons until they reach maturity after five years.Adults are long, weigh and have a wingspan...

 colonies in Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 for many years in an attempt to breed.

The use of satellite tracking is teaching scientists a great deal about the way albatrosses forage across the ocean to find food. They undertake no annual migration
Bird migration
Bird migration is the regular seasonal journey undertaken by many species of birds. Bird movements include those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat or weather. Sometimes, journeys are not termed "true migration" because they are irregular or in only one direction...

, but disperse widely after breeding, in the case of southern hemisphere species, often undertaking circumpolar trips. There is also evidence that there is separation of the ranges of different species at sea. A comparison of the foraging niches
Ecological niche
In ecology, a niche is a term describing the relational position of a species or population in its ecosystem to each other; e.g. a dolphin could potentially be in another ecological niche from one that travels in a different pod if the members of these pods utilize significantly different food...

 of two related species that breed on Campbell Island
Campbell Island, New Zealand
Campbell Island is a remote, subantarctic island of New Zealand and the main island of the Campbell Island group. It covers of the group's , and is surrounded by numerous stacks, rocks and islets like Dent Island, Folly Island , Isle de Jeanette Marie, and Jacquemart Island, the latter being the...

, the Campbell Albatross
Campbell Albatross
The Campbell Albatross or Campbell Mollymawk, Thalassarche impavida, is a medium-sized mollymawk in the albatross family. It breeds only on Campbell Island and the associated islet of Jeanette Marie, a small New Zealand island group in the South Pacific. It is sometimes considered a subspecies of...

 and the Grey-headed Albatross
Grey-headed Albatross
The Grey-headed Albatross, Thalassarche chrysostoma, also known as the Grey-headed Mollymawk, is a large seabird from the albatross family. It has a circumpolar distribution, nesting on isolated islands in the Southern Ocean and feeding at high latitudes, further south than any of the other...

, showed the Campbell Albatross primarily fed over the Campbell Plateau
Campbell Plateau
The Campbell Plateau is a large submarine plateau to the south of New Zealand and the Chatham Rise. It originated in the Gondwanan breakup and is part of Zealandia, a largely submerged continent. The Bounty Islands, Antipodes Islands, Auckland Islands and Campbell Island are on the...

 whereas the Grey-Headed Albatross fed in more pelagic, oceanic waters. Wandering Albatross
Wandering Albatross
The Wandering Albatross, Snowy Albatross or White-winged Albatross, Diomedea exulans, is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean. It was the first species of albatross to be described, and was long considered the same species as the Tristan...

es also react strongly to bathymetry
Bathymetry
Bathymetry is the study of underwater depth of lake or ocean floors. In other words, bathymetry is the underwater equivalent to hypsometry. The name comes from Greek βαθύς , "deep", and μέτρον , "measure"...

, feeding only in waters deeper than 1000 m (3281 ft); so rigidly did the satellite plots match this contour that one scientist remarked, "It almost appears as if the birds notice and obey a 'No Entry' sign where the water shallows to less than 1000 m". There is also evidence of different ranges for the two sexes of the same species; a study of Tristan Albatross
Tristan Albatross
The Tristan Albatross, Diomedea dabbenena, is a large seabird from the albatross family. One of the great albatrosses of the genus Diomedea, it was only widely recognised as a full species in 1998.-Taxonomy:...

es breeding on Gough Island
Gough Island
Gough Island , also known historically as Gonçalo Álvares or Diego Alvarez, is a volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is a dependency of Tristan da Cunha and part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha...

 showed that males foraged to the west of Gough and females to the east.

Diet

The albatross diet is predominantly cephalopod
Cephalopod
A cephalopod is any member of the molluscan class Cephalopoda . These exclusively marine animals are characterized by bilateral body symmetry, a prominent head, and a set of arms or tentacles modified from the primitive molluscan foot...

s, fish
Fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

, crustacean
Crustacean
Crustaceans form a very large group of arthropods, usually treated as a subphylum, which includes such familiar animals as crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill and barnacles. The 50,000 described species range in size from Stygotantulus stocki at , to the Japanese spider crab with a leg span...

s, and offal, although they will also scavenge carrion
Carrion
Carrion refers to the carcass of a dead animal. Carrion is an important food source for large carnivores and omnivores in most ecosystems. Examples of carrion-eaters include vultures, hawks, eagles, hyenas, Virginia Opossum, Tasmanian Devils, coyotes, Komodo dragons, and burying beetles...

 and feed on other zooplankton
Zooplankton
Zooplankton are heterotrophic plankton. Plankton are organisms drifting in oceans, seas, and bodies of fresh water. The word "zooplankton" is derived from the Greek zoon , meaning "animal", and , meaning "wanderer" or "drifter"...

. It should be noted that for most species, a comprehensive understanding of diet is only known for the breeding season, when the albatrosses regularly return to land and study is possible. The importance of each of these food sources varies from species to species, and even from population to population; some concentrate on squid
Squid
Squid are cephalopods of the order Teuthida, which comprises around 300 species. Like all other cephalopods, squid have a distinct head, bilateral symmetry, a mantle, and arms. Squid, like cuttlefish, have eight arms arranged in pairs and two, usually longer, tentacles...

 alone, others take more krill
Krill
Krill is the common name given to the order Euphausiacea of shrimp-like marine crustaceans. Also known as euphausiids, these small invertebrates are found in all oceans of the world...

 or fish
Fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

. Of the two albatross species found in Hawaii
Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

, one, the Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
The Black-footed Albatross, Phoebastria nigripes, is a large seabird from the North Pacific of the albatross family Diomedeidae. It is one of three species of albatross that range in the northern hemisphere, nesting on isolated tropical islands...

, takes mostly fish while the Laysan
Laysan Albatross
The Laysan Albatross, Phoebastria immutabilis, is a large seabird that ranges across the North Pacific. This small two-tone gull-like albatross is the second most common seabird in the Hawaiian Islands, with an estimated population of 2.5 million birds, and is currently expanding its range to new...

 feeds on squid.

The use of dataloggers at sea that record ingestion of water against time (providing a likely time of feeding) suggest that albatross predominantly feed during the day. Analysis of the squid beaks regurgitated by albatrosses has shown that many of the squid eaten are too large to have been caught alive, and include mid-water species likely to be beyond the reach of albatross, suggesting that, for some species (like the Wandering Albatross
Wandering Albatross
The Wandering Albatross, Snowy Albatross or White-winged Albatross, Diomedea exulans, is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean. It was the first species of albatross to be described, and was long considered the same species as the Tristan...

), scavenged
Scavenger
Scavenging is both a carnivorous and herbivorous feeding behavior in which individual scavengers search out dead animal and dead plant biomass on which to feed. The eating of carrion from the same species is referred to as cannibalism. Scavengers play an important role in the ecosystem by...

 squid may be an important part of the diet. The source of these dead squid is a matter of debate; some certainly comes from squid fisheries, but in nature it primarily comes from the die-off that occurs after squid spawning and the vomit of squid-eating whale
Whale
Whale is the common name for various marine mammals of the order Cetacea. The term whale sometimes refers to all cetaceans, but more often it excludes dolphins and porpoises, which belong to suborder Odontoceti . This suborder also includes the sperm whale, killer whale, pilot whale, and beluga...

s (sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...

s, pilot whale
Pilot whale
Pilot whales are cetaceans belonging to the genus Globicephala. There are two extant species, the long-finned pilot whale and the short-finned pilot whale . The two are not readily distinguished at sea and analysis of the skulls is the best way to tell the difference between them...

s and Southern Bottlenose Whale
Southern bottlenose whale
The Southern bottlenose whale is a species of whale, in the ziphiid family, one of two members of the Hyperoodon genus. The southern bottlenose has been rarely observed, was seldom hunted, and is probably the most abundant whale in Antarctic waters.-Physical description:It is fairly rotund and...

s). The diet of other species, like the Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
The Black-browed Albatross or Black-browed Mollymawk, Thalassarche melanophrys, is a large seabird of the albatross family Diomedeidae, and it is the most widespread and common albatross.-Taxonomy:...

 or the Grey-headed Albatross
Grey-headed Albatross
The Grey-headed Albatross, Thalassarche chrysostoma, also known as the Grey-headed Mollymawk, is a large seabird from the albatross family. It has a circumpolar distribution, nesting on isolated islands in the Southern Ocean and feeding at high latitudes, further south than any of the other...

, is rich with smaller species of squid that tend to sink after death, and scavenging is not assumed to play a large role in their diet. Also the Waved Albatross
Waved Albatross
The Waved Albatross, Phoebastria irrorata - also known as Galapagos Albatross - is the only member of the Diomedeidae family located in the tropics. When they forage, the Waved Albatross follow straight paths to a single site off the coast of Peru, about distant to the east...

 has been observed practicing kleptoparasitism
Kleptoparasitism
Kleptoparasitism or cleptoparasitism is a form of feeding in which one animal takes prey or other food from another that has caught, collected, or otherwise prepared the food, including stored food...

, harassing boobies
Booby
A booby is a seabird in the genus Sula, part of the Sulidae family. Boobies are closely related to the gannets , which were formerly included in Sula.-Description:...

 to steal their food, making it the only member of its order to do so regularly.

Until recently it was thought that albatross were predominantly surface feeders, swimming at the surface and snapping up squid and fish pushed to the surface by currents, predators, or death. The deployment of capillary depth recorders, which record the maximum dive depth undertaken by a bird (between attaching it to a bird and recovering it when it returns to land), has shown that while some species, like the Wandering Albatross
Wandering Albatross
The Wandering Albatross, Snowy Albatross or White-winged Albatross, Diomedea exulans, is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean. It was the first species of albatross to be described, and was long considered the same species as the Tristan...

, do not dive deeper than a metre, some species, like the Light-mantled Albatross
Light-mantled Albatross
The Light-mantled Albatross, Phoebetria palpebrata, also known as the Grey-mantled Albatross or the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, is a small albatross in the genus Phoebetria, which it shares with the Sooty Albatross...

, have a mean diving depth of almost 5 m and can dive as deep as 12.5 m. In addition to surface feeding and diving, they have now also been observed plunge diving from the air to snatch prey.

Breeding and dancing

See also Albatross Mating Dances

Albatrosses are colonial
Bird colony
A bird colony is a large congregation of individuals of one or more species of bird that nest or roost in close proximity at a particular location. Many kinds of birds are known to congregate in groups of varying size; a congregation of nesting birds is called a breeding colony...

, usually nesting on isolated islands; where colonies are on larger landmasses, they are found on exposed headlands with good approaches from the sea in several directions, like the colony on the Otago Peninsula
Otago Peninsula
The Otago Peninsula is a long, hilly indented finger of land that forms the easternmost part of Dunedin, New Zealand. Volcanic in origin, it forms one wall of the eroded valley that now forms Otago Harbour. The peninsula lies south-east of Otago Harbour and runs parallel to the mainland for...

 in Dunedin, New Zealand. Many Buller's Albatross
Buller's Albatross
Buller's Albatross or Buller's Mollymawk, Thalassarche bulleri, is a small mollymawk in the albatross family. It breeds on islands around New Zealand, and feeds in the seas off Australia and the South Pacific.-Taxonomy:...

es and Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
The Black-footed Albatross, Phoebastria nigripes, is a large seabird from the North Pacific of the albatross family Diomedeidae. It is one of three species of albatross that range in the northern hemisphere, nesting on isolated tropical islands...

es nest under trees in open forest. Colonies vary from the very dense aggregations favoured by the mollymawks (Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
The Black-browed Albatross or Black-browed Mollymawk, Thalassarche melanophrys, is a large seabird of the albatross family Diomedeidae, and it is the most widespread and common albatross.-Taxonomy:...

 colonies on the Falkland Islands
Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands are an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean, located about from the coast of mainland South America. The archipelago consists of East Falkland, West Falkland and 776 lesser islands. The capital, Stanley, is on East Falkland...

 have densities of 70 nests per 100 m²) to the much looser groups and widely spaced individual nests favoured by the sooty and great albatrosses. All albatross colonies are on islands that historically were free of land mammal
Mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

s. Albatrosses are highly philopatric
Philopatry
Broadly, philopatry is the behaviour of remaining in, or returning to, an individual's birthplace. More specifically, in ecology philopatry is the behaviour of elder offspring sharing the parental burden in the upbringing of their siblings, a classic example of kin selection...

, meaning they will usually return to their natal colony to breed. This tendency to return to their point of origin to breed is so strong that a study of Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross
The Laysan Albatross, Phoebastria immutabilis, is a large seabird that ranges across the North Pacific. This small two-tone gull-like albatross is the second most common seabird in the Hawaiian Islands, with an estimated population of 2.5 million birds, and is currently expanding its range to new...

 showed that the average distance between hatching site and the site where a bird established its own territory was 22 m (72.2 ft).

Like most seabirds, albatrosses are K-selected
R/K selection theory
In ecology, r/K selection theory relates to the selection of combinations of traits in an organism that trade off between quantity or quality of offspring...

 with regard to their life history, meaning they live much longer than other birds, they delay breeding for longer, and invest more effort into fewer young. Albatrosses are very long lived; most species survive upwards of 50 years, the oldest recorded being a Northern Royal Albatross
Northern Royal Albatross
The Northern Royal Albatross or Toroa, Diomedea sanfordi, is a large seabird from the albatross family. It was split from the closely related Southern Royal Albatross as recently as 1998, though not all scientists support that conclusion and consider both of them to be subspecies of the Royal...

 that was ringed
Bird ringing
Bird ringing or bird banding is a technique used in the study of wild birds, by attaching a small, individually numbered, metal or plastic tag to their legs or wings, so that various aspects of the bird's life can be studied by the ability to re-find the same individual later...

 as an adult and survived for another 51 years, giving it an estimated age of 61. Given that most albatross ringing projects are considerably younger than that, it is thought likely that other species will prove to live that long and even longer.

Albatrosses reach sexual maturity
Sexual maturity
Sexual maturity is the age or stage when an organism can reproduce. It is sometimes considered synonymous with adulthood, though the two are distinct...

 slowly, after about five years, but even once they have reached maturity, they will not begin to breed for another couple of years (even up to 10 years for some species). Young non-breeders will attend a colony prior to beginning to breed, spending many years practising the elaborate breeding rituals and "dances" that the family is famous for. Birds arriving back at the colony for the first time already have the stereotyped behaviours that compose albatross language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

, but can neither "read" that behaviour as exhibited by other birds nor respond appropriately. After a period of trial and error learning
Learning
Learning is acquiring new or modifying existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals and some machines. Progress over time tends to follow learning curves.Human learning...

, the young birds learn the syntax
Syntax
In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....

 and perfect the dances. This language is mastered more rapidly if the younger birds are around older birds.

The repertoire of behaviour involves synchronised performances of various actions such as preening
Personal grooming
Personal grooming is the art of cleaning, grooming, and maintaining parts of the body. It is a species-typical behavior that is controlled by neural circuits in the brain.- In humans :...

, pointing, calling, bill clacking, staring, and combinations of such behaviours (like the sky-call). When a bird first returns to the colony it will dance with many partners, but after a number of years the number of birds an individual will interact with drops, until one partner is chosen and a pair is formed. They then continue to perfect an individual language that will eventually be unique to that one pair. Having established a pair bond
Pair bond
In biology, a pair bond is the strong affinity that develops in some species between the males and females in a pair, potentially leading to breeding. Pair-bonding is a term coined in the 1940s that is frequently used in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology circles...

 that will last for life, however, most of that dance will never be used ever again.

Albatrosses are held to undertake these elaborate and painstaking rituals to ensure that the appropriate partner has been chosen and to perfect partner recognition, as egg laying and chick rearing is a huge investment. Even species that can complete an egg-laying cycle in under a year seldom lay eggs in consecutive years. The great albatrosses (like the Wandering Albatross
Wandering Albatross
The Wandering Albatross, Snowy Albatross or White-winged Albatross, Diomedea exulans, is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean. It was the first species of albatross to be described, and was long considered the same species as the Tristan...

) take over a year to raise a chick from laying to fledging
Fledge
Fledge is the stage in a young bird's life when the feathers and wing muscles are sufficiently developed for flight. It also describes the act of a chick's parents raising it to a fully grown state...

. Albatrosses lay a single subelliptical egg
Egg (biology)
An egg is an organic vessel in which an embryo first begins to develop. In most birds, reptiles, insects, molluscs, fish, and monotremes, an egg is the zygote, resulting from fertilization of the ovum, which is expelled from the body and permitted to develop outside the body until the developing...

, white with reddish brown spots, in a breeding season; if the egg is lost to predators or accidentally broken, then no further breeding attempts are made that year. The larger eggs weigh from 200 to 510 g (7.1 to 18 oz). The "divorce" of a pair is a rare occurrence, due to the diminished life-time reproductive success it causes, and usually only happens after several years of breeding failure.

All the southern albatrosses create large nest
Bird nest
A bird nest is the spot in which a bird lays and incubates its eggs and raises its young. Although the term popularly refers to a specific structure made by the bird itself—such as the grassy cup nest of the American Robin or Eurasian Blackbird, or the elaborately woven hanging nest of the...

s for their egg, utilizing grass, shrubs, soil, peat, and even penguin
Penguin
Penguins are a group of aquatic, flightless birds living almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere, especially in Antarctica. Highly adapted for life in the water, penguins have countershaded dark and white plumage, and their wings have become flippers...

 feathers, whereas the three species in the north Pacific make more rudimentary nests. The Waved Albatross
Waved Albatross
The Waved Albatross, Phoebastria irrorata - also known as Galapagos Albatross - is the only member of the Diomedeidae family located in the tropics. When they forage, the Waved Albatross follow straight paths to a single site off the coast of Peru, about distant to the east...

, on the other hand, makes no nest and will even move its egg around the pair's territory, as much as 50 m (164 ft), sometimes causing it to lose the egg. In all albatross species, both parents incubate
Avian incubation
Incubation refers to the process by which certain oviparous animals hatch their eggs, and to the development of the embryo within the egg. The most vital factor of incubation is the constant temperature required for its development over a specific period. Especially in domestic fowl, the act of...

 the egg in stints that last between one day and three weeks. Incubation lasts around 70 to 80 days (longer for the larger albatrosses), the longest incubation period of any bird. It can be an energetically demanding process, with the adult losing as much as 83 g (2.9 oz) of body weight a day.

After hatching, the chick, which is semi-altricial, is brooded and guarded for three weeks until it is large enough to defend and thermoregulate
Thermoregulation
Thermoregulation is the ability of an organism to keep its body temperature within certain boundaries, even when the surrounding temperature is very different...

 itself. During this period the parents feed the chick small meals when they relieve each other from duty. After the brooding period is over, the chick is fed in regular intervals by both parents. The parents adopt alternative patterns of short and long foraging trips, providing meals that weigh around 12% of their body weight (around 600 g (21.2 oz)). The meals are composed of both fresh squid
Squid
Squid are cephalopods of the order Teuthida, which comprises around 300 species. Like all other cephalopods, squid have a distinct head, bilateral symmetry, a mantle, and arms. Squid, like cuttlefish, have eight arms arranged in pairs and two, usually longer, tentacles...

, fish
Fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

 and krill
Krill
Krill is the common name given to the order Euphausiacea of shrimp-like marine crustaceans. Also known as euphausiids, these small invertebrates are found in all oceans of the world...

, as well as stomach oil
Stomach oil
Stomach oil is the light oil composed of neutral dietary lipids found in the proventriculus of birds in the order Procellariiformes. All albatrosses, procellarids and storm-petrels use the oil...

, an energy
Food energy
Food energy is the amount of energy obtained from food that is available through cellular respiration.Food energy is expressed in food calories or kilojoules...

-rich food that is lighter to carry than undigested prey items. This oil is created in a stomach organ known as a proventriculus
Proventriculus
The proventriculus is part of the digestive system of birds, invertebrates and insects.-Birds:The proventriculus is a standard part of avian anatomy...

 from digested prey items by most tubenoses, and gives them their distinctive musty smell.

Albatross chicks take a long time to fledge. In the case of the great albatrosses, it can take up to 280 days; even for the smaller albatrosses, it takes anywhere between 140 and 170 days. Like many seabirds, albatross chicks will gain enough weight to be heavier than their parents, and prior to fledging they use these reserves to build up body condition (particularly growing all their flight feathers), usually fledging at the same weight as their parents. Between 15% and 65% of those fledged survive to breed. Albatross chicks fledge on their own and receive no further help from their parents, who return to the nest after fledging, unaware their chick has left. Studies of juveniles dispersing at sea have suggested an innate migration behaviour, a genetically coded navigation route, which helps young birds when they are first out at sea.

Etymology

The name albatross is derived from the Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

 al-câdous or al-ġaţţās (a pelican
Pelican
A pelican, derived from the Greek word πελεκυς pelekys is a large water bird with a large throat pouch, belonging to the bird family Pelecanidae....

; literally, "the diver"), which travelled to English via the Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

 form alcatraz ("gannet
Gannet
Gannets are seabirds comprising the genus Morus, in the family Sulidae, closely related to the boobies.The gannets are large black and white birds with yellow heads. They have long pointed wings and long bills. Northern gannets are the largest seabirds in the North Atlantic, with a wingspan of up...

"), which is also the origin of the name of the former prison, Alcatraz. The OED
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

 notes that the word alcatraz was originally applied to the frigatebird
Frigatebird
The frigatebirds are a family, Fregatidae, of seabirds. There are five species in the single genus Fregata. They are also sometimes called Man of War birds or Pirate birds. Since they are related to the pelicans, the term "frigate pelican" is also a name applied to them...

; the modification to albatross was perhaps influenced by Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 albus, meaning "white", in contrast to frigatebirds which are black. In modern Portuguese, the word used for the bird, albatroz, is in turn derived from English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 albatross.

They were once commonly known as Goonie birds or Gooney birds, particularly those of the North Pacific. In the southern hemisphere, the name mollymawk is still well established in some areas, which is a corrupted form of malle-mugge, an old Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

 name for the Northern Fulmar
Northern Fulmar
The Northern Fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis, Fulmar, or Arctic Fulmar is a highly abundant sea bird found primarily in subarctic regions of the north Atlantic and north Pacific oceans. Fulmars come in one of two color morphs: a light one which is almost entirely white, and a dark one which is...

. The name Diomedea, assigned to the albatrosses by Linnaeus
Carolus Linnaeus
Carl Linnaeus , also known after his ennoblement as , was a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature. He is known as the father of modern taxonomy, and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology...

, references the mythical metamorphosis of the companions of the Greek warrior Diomedes
Diomedes
Diomedes or Diomed is a hero in Greek mythology, known for his participation in the Trojan War.He was born to Tydeus and Deipyle and later became King of Argos, succeeding his maternal grandfather, Adrastus. In Homer's Iliad Diomedes is regarded alongside Ajax as one of the best warriors of all...

 into birds. Finally, the name for the order, Procellariiformes, comes from the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 word procella meaning a violent wind or a storm.

In culture

Albatrosses have been described as "the most legendary of all birds". An albatross is a central emblem in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the longest major poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in 1797–98 and was published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads. Modern editions use a later revised version printed in 1817 that featured a gloss...

 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, Romantic, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He is probably best known for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla...

; a captive albatross is also a metaphor
Metaphor
A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

 for the poète maudit
Poète maudit
A poète maudit is a poet living a life outside or against society. Abuse of drugs and alcohol, insanity, crime, violence, and in general any societal sin, often resulting in an early death are typical elements of the biography of a poète maudit....

 in a poem of Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire was a French poet who produced notable work as an essayist, art critic, and pioneering translator of Edgar Allan Poe. His most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal expresses the changing nature of beauty in modern, industrializing Paris during the nineteenth century...

. It is from the Coleridge poem that the usage of albatross as a metaphor
Albatross (metaphor)
The word 'albatross' is sometimes used metaphorically to mean a psychological burden that feels like a curse. It is an allusion to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ....

 is derived; someone with a burden or obstacle is said to have 'an albatross around their neck', the punishment given in the poem to the mariner who killed the albatross. In part due to the poem, there is a widespread myth
Urban legend
An urban legend, urban myth, urban tale, or contemporary legend, is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true...

 that (all) sailors believe it disastrous to shoot or harm an albatross; in truth, sailors regularly killed and ate them, e.g., as reported by James Cook
James Cook
Captain James Cook, FRS, RN was a British explorer, navigator and cartographer who ultimately rose to the rank of captain in the Royal Navy...

 in 1772. On the other hand, it has been reported that sailors caught the birds, but supposedly let them free again; the possible reason is that albatrosses were often regarded as the souls of lost sailors, so that killing them was supposedly viewed as bringing bad luck. The head of an albatross being caught with a hook is used as the emblem of the Cape Horner
Cape Horner
Cape Horner is a term that denotes a captain of a sailing ship which has sailed around Cape Horn and is a member of the Association Amicale Internationale des Capitaines au Long-Cours-Cap Horniers....

s, i.e. sailors who have rounded Cape Horn
Cape Horn
Cape Horn is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile, and is located on the small Hornos Island...

 on freighters under sail; captains of such ships even received themselves the title "albatrosses" in the Cape Horners' organization.

The Maori used the wing bones of the albatross to carve flute
Flute
The flute is a musical instrument of the woodwind family. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening...

s.

Birdwatching

Albatrosses are popular birds for birdwatchers
Birdwatching
Birdwatching or birding is the observation of birds as a recreational activity. It can be done with the naked eye, through a visual enhancement device like binoculars and telescopes, or by listening for bird sounds. Birding often involves a significant auditory component, as many bird species are...

 and their colonies popular destinations for ecotourists
Ecotourism
Ecotourism is a form of tourism visiting fragile, pristine, and usually protected areas, intended as a low impact and often small scale alternative to standard commercial tourism...

. Regular birdwatching trips are taken out of many coastal towns and cities, like Monterey
Monterey, New South Wales
Monterey is a suburb in southern Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia. Monterey is located 15km south of the Sydney central business district and is part of the St George area. Monterey is in the local government area of the City of Rockdale....

, Kaikoura
Kaikoura
Kaikoura is a town on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It is located on State Highway 1 180 km north of Christchurch.Kaikoura became the first local authority to reach the Green Globe tourism certification standard....

, Wollongong, Sydney
Sydney
Sydney is the most populous city in Australia and the state capital of New South Wales. Sydney is located on Australia's south-east coast of the Tasman Sea. As of June 2010, the greater metropolitan area had an approximate population of 4.6 million people...

, Port Fairy, Hobart
Hobart
Hobart is the state capital and most populous city of the Australian island state of Tasmania. Founded in 1804 as a penal colony,Hobart is Australia's second oldest capital city after Sydney. In 2009, the city had a greater area population of approximately 212,019. A resident of Hobart is known as...

 and Cape Town
Cape Town
Cape Town is the second-most populous city in South Africa, and the provincial capital and primate city of the Western Cape. As the seat of the National Parliament, it is also the legislative capital of the country. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality...

, to see pelagic seabird
Seabird
Seabirds are birds that have adapted to life within the marine environment. While seabirds vary greatly in lifestyle, behaviour and physiology, they often exhibit striking convergent evolution, as the same environmental problems and feeding niches have resulted in similar adaptations...

s, and albatrosses are easily attracted to these sightseeing boats by the deployment of fish oil and burley into the sea. Visits to colonies can be very popular; the Northern Royal Albatross
Northern Royal Albatross
The Northern Royal Albatross or Toroa, Diomedea sanfordi, is a large seabird from the albatross family. It was split from the closely related Southern Royal Albatross as recently as 1998, though not all scientists support that conclusion and consider both of them to be subspecies of the Royal...

 colony at Taiaroa Head
Taiaroa Head
Taiaroa Head is a headland at the end of the Otago Peninsula in New Zealand, overlooking the mouth of the Otago Harbour. It lies within the city limits of Dunedin...

 in New Zealand attracts 40,000 visitors a year, and more isolated colonies are regular attractions on cruises to sub-Antarctic islands.

Threats and conservation

In spite of often being accorded legendary status, albatrosses have not escaped either indirect or direct pressure from humans. Early encounters with albatrosses by Polynesia
Polynesia
Polynesia is a subregion of Oceania, made up of over 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean. The indigenous people who inhabit the islands of Polynesia are termed Polynesians and they share many similar traits including language, culture and beliefs...

ns and Aleut Indians resulted in hunting and in some cases extirpation from some islands (such as Easter Island
Easter Island
Easter Island is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian triangle. A special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888, Easter Island is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapanui people...

). As European
European ethnic groups
The ethnic groups in Europe are the various ethnic groups that reside in the nations of Europe. European ethnology is the field of anthropology focusing on Europe....

s began sailing the world, they too began to hunt albatross, "fishing" for them from boats to serve at the table or blasting them for sport. This sport reached its peak on emigration lines bound for Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, and only died down when ships became too fast to fish from, and regulations stopped the discharge of weapons for safety reasons. In the 19th century, albatross colonies, particularly those in the North Pacific, were harvested for the feather trade, leading to the near extinction of the Short-tailed Albatross
Short-tailed Albatross
The Short-tailed Albatross or Steller's Albatross, Phoebastria albatrus, is a large rare seabird from the North Pacific. Although related to the other North Pacific albatrosses, it also exhibits behavioural and morphological links to the albatrosses of the Southern Ocean...

.

Of the 21 albatross species recognised by IUCN on their Red List
IUCN Red List
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species , founded in 1963, is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature is the world's main authority on the conservation status of species...

, 19 are threatened, and the other two are near threatened. Two species (as recognised by the IUCN) are considered critically endangered
Endangered species
An endangered species is a population of organisms which is at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in numbers, or threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters...

: the Amsterdam Albatross
Amsterdam Albatross
The Amsterdam Albatross or Amsterdam Island Albatross, Diomedea amsterdamensis, is a huge albatross which breeds only on Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean. It was only described in 1983, and was thought by some researchers to be a sub-species of the Wandering Albatross, exulans...

 and the Chatham Albatross
Chatham Albatross
The Chatham Albatross, Chatham Mollymawk, or Chatham Islands Mollymawk, Thalassarche eremita, is a medium-sized black-and-white albatross which breeds only on The Pyramid, a large rock stack in the Chatham Islands, New Zealand. It is sometimes treated as a subspecies of the Shy Albatross...

. One of the main threats is commercial long-line fishing
Long-line fishing
Longline fishing is a commercial fishing technique. It uses a long line, called the main line, with baited hooks attached at intervals by means of branch lines called "snoods". A snood is a short length of line, attached to the main line using a clip or swivel, with the hook at the other end....

, as the albatrosses and other seabird
Seabird
Seabirds are birds that have adapted to life within the marine environment. While seabirds vary greatly in lifestyle, behaviour and physiology, they often exhibit striking convergent evolution, as the same environmental problems and feeding niches have resulted in similar adaptations...

s--which will readily feed on offal
Offal
Offal , also called, especially in the United States, variety meats or organ meats, refers to the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal. The word does not refer to a particular list of edible organs, which varies by culture and region, but includes most internal organs other than...

--are attracted to the set bait, become hooked on the lines and drown. An estimated 100,000 albatross per year are killed in this fashion. Unregulated pirate fisheries exacerbate the problem.

On Midway Atoll
Midway Atoll
Midway Atoll is a atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, near the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago, about one-third of the way between Honolulu, Hawaii, and Tokyo, Japan. Unique among the Hawaiian islands, Midway observes UTC-11 , eleven hours behind Coordinated Universal Time and one hour...

, collisions between Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross
The Laysan Albatross, Phoebastria immutabilis, is a large seabird that ranges across the North Pacific. This small two-tone gull-like albatross is the second most common seabird in the Hawaiian Islands, with an estimated population of 2.5 million birds, and is currently expanding its range to new...

 and aircraft have resulted in human and bird deaths as well as severe disruptions in military flight operations. Studies were made in the late 1950s and early 1960s that examined the results of control methods such as the killing of birds, the leveling and clearing of land to eliminate updrafts and the destruction of annual nesting sites. Tall structures such as traffic control and radio towers killed 3000 birds in flight collisions during 1964-1965 before the towers were taken down. Closure of Naval Air Facility Midway Island in 1993 eliminated the problem of collisions with military aircraft. Recent reductions in human activity on the island have helped reduce bird deaths, though lead paint pollution near military buildings continues to poison birds by ingestion. Albatross plumes were popular in the early 20th century. In 1909 alone over 300,000 albatrosses were killed on Midway Island and Laysan Island for their plumes.

Another threat to albatrosses is introduced species
Introduced species
An introduced species — or neozoon, alien, exotic, non-indigenous, or non-native species, or simply an introduction, is a species living outside its indigenous or native distributional range, and has arrived in an ecosystem or plant community by human activity, either deliberate or accidental...

, such as rats or feral cat
Feral cat
A feral cat is a descendant of a domesticated cat that has returned to the wild. It is distinguished from a stray cat, which is a pet cat that has been lost or abandoned, while feral cats are born in the wild; the offspring of a stray cat can be considered feral if born in the wild.In many parts of...

s, which directly attack the albatross or its chicks and eggs. Albatrosses have evolved to breed on islands where land mammals are absent but have not developed defences against them. Even species as small as mice can be detrimental; on Gough Island
Gough Island
Gough Island , also known historically as Gonçalo Álvares or Diego Alvarez, is a volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is a dependency of Tristan da Cunha and part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha...

 the chicks of Tristan Albatross
Tristan Albatross
The Tristan Albatross, Diomedea dabbenena, is a large seabird from the albatross family. One of the great albatrosses of the genus Diomedea, it was only widely recognised as a full species in 1998.-Taxonomy:...

es are attacked and eaten alive by introduced house mice
House mouse
The house mouse is a small rodent, a mouse, one of the most numerous species of the genus Mus.As a wild animal the house mouse mainly lives associated with humans, causing damage to crops and stored food....

. Introduced species can have other indirect effects: cattle
Cattle
Cattle are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos primigenius...

 overgrazed essential cover on Amsterdam Island threatening the Amsterdam Albatross; on other islands introduced plants reduce potential nesting habitat.

Ingestion of plastic
Plastic
A plastic material is any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids used in the manufacture of industrial products. Plastics are typically polymers of high molecular mass, and may contain other substances to improve performance and/or reduce production costs...

 flotsam is another problem, one faced by many seabirds. The amount of plastic in the seas has increased dramatically since the first record in the 1960s, coming from waste discarded by ships, offshore dumping, litter on beaches and waste washed to sea by rivers. It is impossible to digest and takes up space in the stomach or gizzard
Gizzard
The gizzard, also referred to as the ventriculus, gastric mill, and gigerium, is an organ found in the digestive tract of some animals, including birds, reptiles, earthworms and some fish. This specialized stomach constructed of thick, muscular walls is used for grinding up food; often rocks are...

 that should be used for food, or can cause an obstruction that starves the bird directly. Studies of birds in the North Pacific have shown that ingestion of plastics results in declining body weight
Body weight
The term body weight is used in daily English speech as well as in the contexts of biological and medical sciences to describe the mass of an organism's body. Body weight is measured in kilograms throughout the world, although in some countries it is still measured in pounds or stones and pounds...

 and body condition. This plastic is sometimes regurgitated and fed to chicks; a study of Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross
The Laysan Albatross, Phoebastria immutabilis, is a large seabird that ranges across the North Pacific. This small two-tone gull-like albatross is the second most common seabird in the Hawaiian Islands, with an estimated population of 2.5 million birds, and is currently expanding its range to new...

 chicks on Midway Atoll
Midway Atoll
Midway Atoll is a atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, near the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago, about one-third of the way between Honolulu, Hawaii, and Tokyo, Japan. Unique among the Hawaiian islands, Midway observes UTC-11 , eleven hours behind Coordinated Universal Time and one hour...

 showed large amounts of ingested plastic in naturally dead chicks compared to healthy chicks killed in accidents. While not the direct cause of death, this plastic causes physiological stress and causes the chick to feel full during feedings, reducing its food intake and the chances of survival.

Scientists and conservationists (most importantly BirdLife International
BirdLife International
BirdLife International is a global Partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources...

 and their partners, who run the Save the Albatross campaign) are working with governments and fishermen to find solutions to the threats albatrosses face. Techniques such as setting long-line bait at night, dying the bait blue, setting the bait underwater, increasing the amount of weight on lines and using bird scarers can all reduce the seabird by-catch. For example, a collaborative study between scientists and fishermen in New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

 successfully tested an underwater setting device for long-liners which set the lines below the reach of vulnerable albatross species. The use of some of these techniques in the Patagonian Toothfish
Patagonian toothfish
The Patagonian toothfish, Dissostichus eleginoides , is a fish found in the cold, temperate waters of the southern Atlantic, southern Pacific, Indian, and Southern Oceans on seamounts and continental shelves around most sub-Antarctic islands.A close relative, the Antarctic toothfish , is found...

 fishery in the Falkland Islands
Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands are an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean, located about from the coast of mainland South America. The archipelago consists of East Falkland, West Falkland and 776 lesser islands. The capital, Stanley, is on East Falkland...

 is thought to have reduced the number of Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
The Black-browed Albatross or Black-browed Mollymawk, Thalassarche melanophrys, is a large seabird of the albatross family Diomedeidae, and it is the most widespread and common albatross.-Taxonomy:...

 taken by the fleet in the last 10 years. Conservationists have also worked on the field of island restoration
Island restoration
The ecological restoration of islands, or island restoration, is the application of the principles of ecological restoration to islands and island groups. Islands, due to their isolation, are home to many of the world's endemic species, as well as important breeding grounds for seabirds and some...

, removing introduced species that threaten native wildlife, which protects albatrosses from introduced predators.

One important step towards protecting albatrosses and other seabird
Seabird
Seabirds are birds that have adapted to life within the marine environment. While seabirds vary greatly in lifestyle, behaviour and physiology, they often exhibit striking convergent evolution, as the same environmental problems and feeding niches have resulted in similar adaptations...

s is the 2001 treaty
Treaty
A treaty is an express agreement under international law entered into by actors in international law, namely sovereign states and international organizations. A treaty may also be known as an agreement, protocol, covenant, convention or exchange of letters, among other terms...

 the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels
Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels
The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels is a legally binding international treaty signed in 2001.It was created in order to halt the drastic decline of seabird populations in the Southern Hemisphere, particularly albatrosses and procellariids...

, which came into force in 2004 and has been ratified by thirteen countries, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, Argentina
Argentina
Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

, Brazil
Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

 and Chile
Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

, Ecuador
Ecuador
Ecuador , officially the Republic of Ecuador is a representative democratic republic in South America, bordered by Colombia on the north, Peru on the east and south, and by the Pacific Ocean to the west. It is one of only two countries in South America, along with Chile, that do not have a border...

, New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

, Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

, South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, Peru
Peru
Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

, Uruguay
Uruguay
Uruguay ,officially the Oriental Republic of Uruguay,sometimes the Eastern Republic of Uruguay; ) is a country in the southeastern part of South America. It is home to some 3.5 million people, of whom 1.8 million live in the capital Montevideo and its metropolitan area...

 and the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

. The treaty requires these countries to take specific actions to reduce by-catch, pollution and to remove introduced species from nesting islands.

Species

Current thinking divides the albatrosses into four genera. The number of species is a matter of some debate. The IUCN and BirdLife International
BirdLife International
BirdLife International is a global Partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources...

 among others recognise the interim taxonomy of 22 extant species, other authorities retain the more traditional 14 species, and one recent paper proposed a reduction to 13:
  • Great albatrosses (Diomedea)
    • Wandering Albatross
      Wandering Albatross
      The Wandering Albatross, Snowy Albatross or White-winged Albatross, Diomedea exulans, is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean. It was the first species of albatross to be described, and was long considered the same species as the Tristan...

        D. exulans
    • Antipodean Albatross
      Antipodean Albatross
      The Antipodean Albatross, Diomedea antipodensis, is a large seabird, from the albatross family. Antipodean Albatrosses are smaller than Wandering Albatrosses, and breed in predominantly brown plumage, but are otherwise difficult to distinguish from Wanderers.-Etymology:Diomedea antipodensis breaks...

       D. (exulans) antipodensis
    • Amsterdam Albatross
      Amsterdam Albatross
      The Amsterdam Albatross or Amsterdam Island Albatross, Diomedea amsterdamensis, is a huge albatross which breeds only on Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean. It was only described in 1983, and was thought by some researchers to be a sub-species of the Wandering Albatross, exulans...

       D. (exulans) amsterdamensis
    • Tristan Albatross
      Tristan Albatross
      The Tristan Albatross, Diomedea dabbenena, is a large seabird from the albatross family. One of the great albatrosses of the genus Diomedea, it was only widely recognised as a full species in 1998.-Taxonomy:...

       D. (exulans) dabbenena
    • Northern Royal Albatross
      Northern Royal Albatross
      The Northern Royal Albatross or Toroa, Diomedea sanfordi, is a large seabird from the albatross family. It was split from the closely related Southern Royal Albatross as recently as 1998, though not all scientists support that conclusion and consider both of them to be subspecies of the Royal...

       D. (epomorpha) sanfordi
    • Southern Royal Albatross
      Southern Royal Albatross
      The Southern Royal Albatross, Diomedea epomophora, is a large seabird from the albatross family. At an average wingspan of around , it is the second largest albatross, behind the Wandering Albatross.-Taxonomy:...

       D. epomophora
  • North Pacific albatross
    North Pacific albatross
    The North Pacific albatrosses are large seabirds from the genus Phoebastria in the albatross family. They are the most tropical of the albatrosses, with two species nesting in North Western Hawaiian island chain, one on sub-tropical islands south of Japan , and one nesting on the equator The North...

    es (Phoebastria)
    • Waved Albatross
      Waved Albatross
      The Waved Albatross, Phoebastria irrorata - also known as Galapagos Albatross - is the only member of the Diomedeidae family located in the tropics. When they forage, the Waved Albatross follow straight paths to a single site off the coast of Peru, about distant to the east...

       P. irrorata
    • Short-tailed Albatross
      Short-tailed Albatross
      The Short-tailed Albatross or Steller's Albatross, Phoebastria albatrus, is a large rare seabird from the North Pacific. Although related to the other North Pacific albatrosses, it also exhibits behavioural and morphological links to the albatrosses of the Southern Ocean...

       P. albatrus
    • Black-footed Albatross
      Black-footed Albatross
      The Black-footed Albatross, Phoebastria nigripes, is a large seabird from the North Pacific of the albatross family Diomedeidae. It is one of three species of albatross that range in the northern hemisphere, nesting on isolated tropical islands...

       P. nigripes
    • Laysan Albatross
      Laysan Albatross
      The Laysan Albatross, Phoebastria immutabilis, is a large seabird that ranges across the North Pacific. This small two-tone gull-like albatross is the second most common seabird in the Hawaiian Islands, with an estimated population of 2.5 million birds, and is currently expanding its range to new...

       P. immutabilis
  • Mollymawk
    Mollymawk
    The mollymawks are a group of medium sized albatrosses that form the genus Thalassarche. The name has sometimes been used for the genus Phoebetria as well, but these are correctly called sooty albatrosses. They are restricted to the Southern Hemisphere, where they are the most common of the...

    s (Thalassarche)
    • Black-browed Albatross
      Black-browed Albatross
      The Black-browed Albatross or Black-browed Mollymawk, Thalassarche melanophrys, is a large seabird of the albatross family Diomedeidae, and it is the most widespread and common albatross.-Taxonomy:...

       T. melanophris
    • Campbell Albatross
      Campbell Albatross
      The Campbell Albatross or Campbell Mollymawk, Thalassarche impavida, is a medium-sized mollymawk in the albatross family. It breeds only on Campbell Island and the associated islet of Jeanette Marie, a small New Zealand island group in the South Pacific. It is sometimes considered a subspecies of...

       T. (melanophris) impavida
    • Shy Albatross
      Shy Albatross
      The Shy Albatross or Shy Mollymawk, Thalassarche cauta, is a medium sized albatross that breeds off Australia and New Zealand's sub-Antarctic islands and ranges extensively across the Southern Ocean...

       T. cauta
    • White-capped Albatross
      White-capped Albatross
      The White-capped Albatross, Thalassarche steadi, is a mollymawk that breeds on the islands off of New Zealand. Not all experts agree that this form should be recognized as a separate species to the Shy Albatross, Thalassarche cauta...

       T. steadi
    • Chatham Albatross
      Chatham Albatross
      The Chatham Albatross, Chatham Mollymawk, or Chatham Islands Mollymawk, Thalassarche eremita, is a medium-sized black-and-white albatross which breeds only on The Pyramid, a large rock stack in the Chatham Islands, New Zealand. It is sometimes treated as a subspecies of the Shy Albatross...

       T. (cauta) eremita
    • Salvin's Albatross
      Salvin's Albatross
      Salvin's Albatross, or Salvin's Mollymawk, Thalassarche salvini, is a large seabird that ranges across the Southern Ocean. A medium sized mollymawk in the albatross family, it was long considered to be a subspecies of the Shy Albatross...

       T. (cauta) salvini
    • Grey-headed Albatross
      Grey-headed Albatross
      The Grey-headed Albatross, Thalassarche chrysostoma, also known as the Grey-headed Mollymawk, is a large seabird from the albatross family. It has a circumpolar distribution, nesting on isolated islands in the Southern Ocean and feeding at high latitudes, further south than any of the other...

       T. chrysostoma
    • Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross
      Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross
      The Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, Thalassarche chlororhynchos, is a large seabird in the albatross family. This small mollymawk was once considered conspecific with the Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and known as the Yellow-nosed Albatross...

       T. chlororhynchos
    • Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross
      Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross
      The Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, Thalassarche carteri, in the albatross family, and is the smallest of the mollymawks. In 2004, BirdLife International split this species from the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross; however Clements has not split it yet, and the SACC has not either, but recognizes...

       T. (chlororhynchos) carteri
    • Buller's Albatross
      Buller's Albatross
      Buller's Albatross or Buller's Mollymawk, Thalassarche bulleri, is a small mollymawk in the albatross family. It breeds on islands around New Zealand, and feeds in the seas off Australia and the South Pacific.-Taxonomy:...

       T. bulleri
  • Sooty albatross
    Sooty albatross
    The sooty albatrosses are small albatrosses from the genus Phoebetria. There are two species, the Sooty Albatross, Phoebetria fusca, and the Light-mantled Albatross, Phoebetria palpebrata...

    es (Phoebetria)
    • Sooty Albatross
      Sooty Albatross
      The Sooty Albatross, Dark-mantled Sooty Albatross or Dark-mantled Albatross, Phoebetria fusca, is a species of bird in the albatross family...

       P. fusca
    • Light-mantled Albatross
      Light-mantled Albatross
      The Light-mantled Albatross, Phoebetria palpebrata, also known as the Grey-mantled Albatross or the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, is a small albatross in the genus Phoebetria, which it shares with the Sooty Albatross...

       P. palpebrata.

External links


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