Short tailed Albatross Back from the Brink by FWSdocs


									by Janey Fadely
                                                      Short-tailed Albatross:
                                                      Back from the Brink
                                                          Short-tailed albatrosses (Phoebastria     and adults may stay at sea and skip one
                                                      albatrus) once numbered in the                or more breeding seasons, especially if
                                                      millions. These magnificant, graceful,        they are displaced from the colony by
                                                      golden-crowned seabirds soared across         disturbance or habitat destruction. There
                                                      the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea        is no information on how many short-
                                                      during the non-breeding season, and           tailed albatrosses survived the slaugh-
                                                      gathered on numerous remote western           ters, but in 1950, several were observed
                                                      North Pacific islands in large dense          nesting on Torishima. By 1954, the
                                                      colonies during the breeding season.          numbers had grown to 25 birds and at
                                                      Today, however, fewer than 1,000 short-       least 6 pairs. Japan designated the short-
                                                      tailed albatrosses remain, and they face      tailed albatross a protected species in
                                                      threats that are difficult to quantify,       1958 and added protection in 1962 and
                                                      predict, and alleviate.                       1972. Harvest is prohibited and human
                                                          Short-tailed albatrosses were brought     activities on Torishima are restricted.
                                                      to the brink of extinction in the middle      These protective measures, together
                                                      of this century by large-scale exploita-      with intensive habitat enhancement
                                                      tion at breeding colonies that began in       projects on Torishima, have made it
                                                      the late 1800’s. Between 1885 and 1903,       possible for the population to grow to
                                                      an estimated 5 million of the birds were      approximately 500 breeding birds and
                                                      taken at Torishima Island, Japan, alone.      1,000 total birds today. While this
                                                      Large-scale killing of short-tailed           increase is encouraging, the total world
                                                      albatrosses continued until the early         population nests in only two colonies.
                                                      1930’s, except for a few years following      Approximately 30 adults nest on remote
                                                      the 1903 volcanic eruption on the             Minami-kojima Island, which is difficult
                                                      island. Albatross down was used for           and dangerous for biologists to visit
                                                      quilts and pillows, the wing and tail         because of territorial disputes. The
                                                      feathers for writing quills, bodies for       remaining 95 percent of the species’
                                                      fertilizer and fat, and eggs for food. An     breeding birds nest at the Tsubamesaki
                                                      account from this period stated that          (“Swallow Point”) colony on Torishima.
                                                      short-tailed albatrosses were “...killed by   The albatross’s eggs are, more or less,
                                                      striking them on the head with a club,        all in one basket.
                                                      and it is not difficult for a man to kill         Short-tailed albatrosses face other
                                                      between 100 and 200 birds daily.” By          natural and human-related threats. The
                                                      1949, there were no short-tailed alba-        island of Torishima is an active volcano
                                                      trosses breeding at any of the 15 or          that has erupted several times in the last
                                                      more historically known breeding sites,       century. In 1903, an explosive eruption
                                                      including Torishima, and the species          caused 125 human deaths and signifi-
                                                      was reported to be extinct.                   cant habitat destruction on the island.
                                                          Thankfully, the report was premature.     Albatross breeding habitat is also
                                                      Albatrosses spend much of their lives at      threatened by monsoon rains that can
                                                      sea where they are harder to detect than      cause mudslides and erosion. Short-
                                                      at the nesting grounds. Juveniles spend       tailed albatrosses return to the same
                                                      years at sea before returning to their        nesting sites each year, and destruction
                                                      natal colonies to breed for the first time,   of breeding habitat can delay nesting by

any surviving adults for years. Because          Seabird bycatch in southern fisheries
Torishima is the only large colony of        has been effectively reduced through
short-tailed albatrosses in the world, a     the use of: 1) weighted lines, which
catastrophic event could have devastat-      sink immediately upon entering the
ing effects on the future survival or        water, 2) streamers flown or buoys
recovery of the species.                     dragged above the longline as it is
   Conservation and monitoring efforts       being set, and 3) underwater setting of
continue on Torishima. Dr. Hiroshi           longlines. Recognizing the threat that
Hasegawa of Toho University in Japan         seabird bycatch could represent,
has made several trips per year to           representatives of the longline industry
Torishima since 1976 to monitor the          requested that the National Marine
colony and band chicks. To protect the       Fisheries Service (NMFS) implement
colony from mudslides and soil erosion,      regulations requiring the use of seabird
he mounted an enormous project to            deterrent devices in Alaska’s hook-and-
stabilize slopes and direct mud flows        line groundfish fishery. In response to
away from the colony with artificial         this request, and as a result of Biological
berms and transplanted vegetation.           Opinions issued under the Endangered
These efforts have paid off with             Species Act, NMFS adopted regulations
improved nesting success. More re-           requiring the use of seabird bycatch
cently, he used an experimental              reduction measures in these fisheries.
program to establish a new colony in         Since 1995, observers on Alaskan
                                                                                                             Because the short-tailed
stable, well- vegetated habitat on the       fishing vessels have reported five short-
                                                                                                             albatross was originally
opposite side of Torishima in an area        tailed albatross deaths on longlines (two                       listed as a foreign
less likely to be affected by any future     in 1995, one in 1996, and two in 1998).                         endangered species, it is
volcanic eruptions. Using decoys and         Although population modeling indicates                          currently protected by the
broadcasting recorded albatross vocal-       that this rate of mortality in North Pacific                    Endangered Species Act
izations, he successfully lured at least     fisheries will not jeopardize the future                        throughout its range except
one pair of breeding adults to the new       survival and recovery of the species,                           in the U.S. The potential
                                                                                                             threats posed by longline
colony site, and the first chick was         continued vigilance in improving the
                                                                                                             fishing (above), plastics
produced in 1997. Long-term plans call       effectiveness of seabird bycatch deter-                         pollution and oil
for establishing additional breeding         rent measures, and in monitoring the                            contamination may not
colonies at other sites. Short-tailed        other threats to the species, is critical.                      individually represent
albatrosses have also been observed on           The Biological Opinions on Alaska’s                         significant threats, but when
Midway Atoll in the Northwestern             fisheries also required NMFS to develop                         combined with a
                                                                                                             catastrophic event on
Hawaiian Islands since the early 1930’s.     and implement a research plan to test
                                                                                                             Torishima, could jeopardize
Although there are no confirmed              the effectiveness of existing seabird
                                                                                                             the survival and recovery of
breeding records, Midway Atoll (now a        deterrent methods in reducing bycatch                           this species. Thus, the
national wildlife refuge) could be a         in North Pacific fisheries. The plan has                        species is still at risk. On
potential future colony site.                now been developed and the agencies                             November 3, 1998, the FWS
   In addition to natural threats on the     are searching for funding. Meanwhile,                           published a proposal to
breeding grounds, albatrosses face           fishermen in the North Pacific and                              extend the range over which
                                                                                                             the species is listed to
human-caused threats at sea. These           Bering Sea continue to test and improve
                                                                                                             include the U.S.
include plastics ingestion, oil contamina-   these methods. Seabird bycatch mitiga-
tion, and longline fishing. Seabirds         tion measures are also being tested and
actively search out longline vessels in      considered in Hawaiian pelagic longline
search of bait. During longline setting,     fisheries. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife
baited hooks are available to surface-       Service and NMFS are committed to
feeding birds from the time the hooks        continuing cooperative approaches to
leave the vessel until they sink out of      short-tailed albatross conservation with
range. If birds are hooked while             international and domestic partners.
attempting to feed on bait, they can be
dragged underwater and killed.                  Janey Fadely is a Wildlife Biologist in
                                             the Alaska Region.

                                                                          ENDANGERED SPECIES BULLETIN   MARCH/APRIL 1999   VOLUME XXIV NO. 2   9

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