Fellow Story

Working Group Re-Assessing Status of Pacific Albatross Species

Black-footed and Laysan albatrosses are charismatic, long-lived, pelagic seabirds that are considered important indicators of North Pacific ecosystem health.  New information indicated that the most recent official government status assessment for these species might have underestimated population threats and overestimated population health.  Thus, the main purpose of our project was to re-assess the conservation status of these albatrosses and share our results with a broad group of stakeholders to ensure these species are adequately protected.  We assembled an expert advisory panel made up of biologists, managers, policy makers, and advocates that we engaged from the start of our project and continue to work with to assure our results are integrated into current and future policy decisions. 

The foundation of our project was a comprehensive population modeling and analysis effort through which we determined that the official status assessment underestimated the negative impact of fisheries bycatch, considered the greatest threat to albatross survival worldwide, by at least a factor of two.  We also concluded that several decades could be required to detect a population decline in albatrosses using the current method of counting breeding birds to monitor status and trends.  Overall, our findings indicate that the existing status assessment implied these populations are more secure than is warranted by the available data.  While the IUCN has recently downgraded their Red List assessment for these albatrosses, based largely on the existing status assessment, our work suggests a more precautionary approach should be taken when managing threats for these species, and that black-footed albatross in particular remain a conservation concern.  We have published a paper in Biological Conservation (January 2018) sharing our findings. 

We recently attended a black-footed albatross working group (November 2017) hosted by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, in Honolulu, and gave an invited presentation that drew upon the results of our project to help understand the long-term consequences of an observed increase in bycatch to black-footed albatross population growth.  We will continue to share our results through presentations at scientific meetings and discussions with our scientific advisory panel for public dissemination such as the American Bird Conservancy's BIRDCALLS blog.

Our results have highlighted the need to better understand the current survival rates of black-footed and Laysan albatross and our efforts have generated interest by other funding agencies who are investigating the potential to allocate resources to this effort.  Finally, our findings are being used by NGOs such as Audubon California and the American Bird Conservancy in their advocacy efforts for North Pacific albatross conservation.