Black-footed Albatross
Black footed albatross
Black-footed Albatross

Common name: Black-footed Albatross
Scientific name: Phoebastria nigripes
Length: 68 to 74 cm, wingspan of 190 to 220 cm
Weight: 3.4 kg (7.4 lb) for males and 3 kg (6.6 lb) for females
Population: approximately 130,000
Distribution: nests mainly on Midway Atoll, Laysan, the French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and in the Bonin Islands
Issue: pollution, invasive species, plastic ingestion
IUCN Red List status: endangered

The Black-footed Albatross is one of the smallest members of the albatross family (or Diomedeidae). Nicknamed the “floating pig” by some, the Black-footed Albatross feeds on anything it can find; in addition to the fish, squid and other crustaceans that make up the diet of most seabirds, it readily eats fish offal thrown off fishing boats, fish eggs, kitchen scraps, and anything fatty it can get its beak on (including oil released by ships).

Pairs mate for life and always nest at the same location, maintaining and using the same nest. The nest is usually exposed on a sandy beach occupied by other seabirds. During the breeding season, males arrive at the nesting site about 20 days before the female to build or repair the nest and reclaim the nesting site. Breeding season lasts from October to May. Females lay one egg per season, which hatches about 60 days later after being brooded by both parents. Six months after hatching, the young bird leaves the nest for good but will not reach sexual maturity until about the age of nine years.

Black-footed Albatrosses can live up to 40 years.

At least 4,000 individuals (and possibly many more) die each year after becoming entangled in longline fishing equipment. “Longline fishing” consists of attaching many lines with baited hooks to a main line that can be several tens of kilometres long. When species such as albatrosses are unintentionally caught by fishing equipment, they are referred to as “bycatch.” Black-footed Albatross eggs are also vulnerable to the Polynesian rat, a species introduced to the Hawaiian Islands and existing throughout the Pacific Ocean. In addition, the volcanic island Torishima— located 550 km south of Tokyo and one of the nesting sites of the Black-footed Albatross and numerous other seabirds—threatens to erupt. If this happens during the breeding season, it could wipe out these populations. Finally, the ingestion of plastic mistaken for food kills many birds, both adults and chicks.

Worldwide, the Black-footed Albatross population declined 19 percent between 1995 and 2000, and despite the establishment of protected areas and the use of less harmful longlines, a further 20-percent decline is expected over the next 60 years.

Did you know?
On Laysan, it is estimated that every year, 10 percent of Black-footed Albatross fledglings are eaten by tiger sharks, one of the species’ three predators, along with rats and humans.

REFERENCES: Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Encyclopedia of Life.

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