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Recovery Strategy for the Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus) and Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus) in Canada (Proposed)

1. Background

1.1 Species Assessment Information from COSEWIC

Short-tailed Albatross

Date of Assessment: November 2003

Common Name (population): Short-tailed Albatross

Scientific Name: Phoebastria albatrus

COSEWIC Status: Threatened

Reason for Designation: This species was once an abundant seabird along the coast of British Columbia but its numbers declined to near extinction in early 20th century. Numbers are now slowly increasing. Albatross populations in general are very sensitive to incidental catch by commercial fisheries and oil spills; while these impacts have not been documented for this species in Canadian waters, they pose a significant potential threat.

Canadian Occurrence: British Columbia

COSEWIC Status History: Designated Threatened in November 2003. Assessment based on a new status report.

Pink-footed Shearwater

Date of Assessment: May 2004

Common Name (population): Pink-footed Shearwater

Scientific Name: Puffinus creatopus

COSEWIC Status: Threatened

Reason for Designation: This seabird breeds on only three islands off the coast of Chile, where it has suffered significant but unmeasured declines due to nest predation by introduced predators, exploitation by humans and habitat degradation. It likely incurs mortality due to incidental take by fisheries off the coast of British Columbia during the non-breeding season and would be sensitive to any offshore oil spills there.

Canadian Occurrence: British Columbia

COSEWIC Status History: Designated Threatened in May 2004. Assessment based on a new status report.

1.2 Description

1.2.1 Short-tailed Albatross

The Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus; Pallas 1769) is a large-bodied seabird with long narrow wings adapted for soaring just above the water's surface. Of the North Pacific albatrosses, the Short-tailed Albatross is the largest. The large hooked bill, a distinguishing characteristic across age classes, is pink with a bluish tip. 

Adults are mostly black and white, with a pale-yellow head and back of neck, and pale legs and feet. Adult length varies from 84-94 cm and wingspan from 213-229 cm. First year birds are wholly chocolate brown, closely resembling the juvenile Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes). However, the pink bill of the Short-tailed Albatross provides a clear distinguishing feature in the field. The sexes look alike across age classes, and plumage does not vary seasonally (Harrison 1983, Sibley 2000).

1.2.2 Pink-footed Shearwater

The Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus; Coues 1864) is a medium-sized seabird with a stocky body and long (average length 109 cm), broad (10 - 11 cm, P. Hodum, pers. comm. 2007) wings. This species is closely related to the Flesh-footed Shearwater (Puffinus carneipes). While the Pink-footed Shearwater is currently afforded valid species status, the taxonomy of the Flesh-footed and Pink-footed Shearwaters is not completely determined; Palmer (1962), Bourne (1983) and Penhallurick and Wink (2004) have suggested that the Pink-footed Shearwater is a subspecies of the Flesh-footed Shearwater (but see Rheindt and Austin 2005).

Pink-footed Shearwaters have variable plumage but are generally distinguishable from other shearwaters by the combination of greyish-brown upperparts, a white belly with greyish markings, mottled white and grey wing linings, a dusky head and a pink bill with a dark tip (Harrison 1983). Juveniles and adults have similar plumage, and males are slightly larger and heavier than females (Guicking et al. 2004).

1.3 Populations and Distribution

1.3.1 Short-tailed Albatross

The most recent estimate of the global population of Short-tailed Albatrosses is 2,130 individuals (H. Hasegawa, pers. comm. 2006). The species currently breeds on two islands in Japan: 85% of the population nests in two colonies on Torishima, and the remaining 15% on Minami-kojima and Kita-kojima in the Senkaku Islands. Historically, breeding colonies were known from at least nine sites, all within the sub-tropical western North Pacific (Hasegawa 1984).

In the last 20 years, the breeding population on Torishima has been increasing at a rate of between 6.5% and 8.0% annually (United States Fish and Wildlife Service [USFWS] 2005). Breeding populations on the Senkaku Islands are estimated to be increasing at a rate approximately equal to that on Torishima (H. Hasegawa, pers. comm. 2006). The rapid growth rates are likely due to an extremely low population size compared to historical estimates. As the population increases, density-dependent factors will likely slow the annual growth rate; however, this is not likely to occur for several decades (Cochrane and Starfield 1999).

The global conservation status rank of the Short-tailed Albatross (G1-critically imperilled) has not changed since the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) released the Canadian status report in 2003. The provincial conservation status rank for British Columbia (BC) is currently SNA, meaning “a conservation status rank is not applicable because the species is not a suitable target for conservation activities” (BC Conservation Data Centre 2005). In this case, a provincial conservation status was not assigned due to the difficulty of assigning a rank to a species that does not breed in BC, and when it does occur, it is found irregularly and in disparate groups (L. Ramsay, pers. comm. 2006). The Short-tailed Albatross is listed on the Japanese Red List as a Vulnerable species, on The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List as Vulnerable, and under the United States Endangered Species Act as Endangered (NatureServe 2006). The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (the CMS) also lists the species under Appendix 1 (migratory species categorized as being in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant proportion of their range).

Figure 1 shows the locations of places (within Canada and adjacent areas) mentioned in this document. The marine range of the Short-tailed Albatross extends from Japan and the Kuril Islands (Russia), east into the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska, south to Baja California, and throughout the North Pacific. Historically the species was considered common throughout this range irrespective of season (review by Sanger 1972, American Ornithologists' Union [AOU] 1998). Recent data suggest most adult and immature birds are concentrated near the breeding colonies during the breeding season (December to April; McDermond and Morgan 1993), although individuals may forage hundreds of kilometres from their colony (USFWS 2005). Outside the breeding season, Short-tailed Albatrosses are distributed throughout the sub-arctic convergence zone in the North Pacific (Camp 1993, McDermond and Morgan 1993, Sherburne 1993, Piatt et al. 2006), spending the greatest proportion of their time in Alaskan, and secondarily, in Russian waters (Suryan et al. 2007).

Figure 1. Map of the west coast of Canada showing places and marine areas referred to in the text.

Figure 1. Map of the west coast of Canada

At-sea marine bird survey data (figure 2) and data derived from satellite tagged after-hatch year birds (Suryan et al. 2006, R. Suryan and G. Balogh unpubl. data 2006; figures 3a, b) show where Short-tailed Albatrosses have occurred in and adjacent to Canada, and along the northwest coast of the conterminous USA.

In Canada, the Short-tailed Albatross occurs exclusively as a non-breeding species off the coast of BC and historically it may have been the dominant 'near-shore albatross'. Its marine range in Canada includes Canada's 200 nm Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Dixon Entrance, Queen Charlotte Sound, and Hecate Strait. It may also have occurred in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and in coastal inlets (COSEWIC 2003). Over the last decade, 32 Short-tailed Albatrosses have been observed within Canada's EEZ; as well as an additional 5 sightings within 100 km of the EEZ (K. Morgan unpubl. data 2006). It is likely that many more undetected birds occur within Canadian territory for throughout the year. There is currently no accurate estimate of the number of Short-tailed Albatrosses that travel and forage within Canada's EEZ.

Figure 2. Distribution of Short-tailed Albatross sightings in Canada and adjacent waters (1960-2004). Data from: Environment Canada, the International Pacific Halibut Commission and the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database (NPPSD 2005).

Figure 2. Distribution of Short-tailed Albatross sightings in Canada and adjacent waters (1960-2004).

1.3.2 Pink-footed Shearwater

The only known Pink-footed Shearwater nesting colonies occur in Chile: two islands in the Juan Fernández archipelago, Isla Santa Clara and Isla Robinson Crusoe; and Isla Mocha, (approximately 800 km south of the Juan Fernández archipelago). BirdLife International provides a global estimate of 34,000 – 60,000 pairs of Pink-footed Shearwaters (BirdLife International 2005).

On the Juan Fernández Islands, Brooke (1987) estimated 4,000-4,500 pairs. In 2003, a detailed census of all burrows on Isla Santa Clara estimated a minimum of 2,544 pairs at this one colony (Hodum and Wainstein 2003). Following the eradication of rabbits from Santa Clara in 2003, the island's breeding population increased about 36% to an estimated 3,470 pairs (P. Hodum unpubl. data 2006). On Isla Robinson Crusoe, a 2003–2006 island-wide census estimated 8,500 Pink-footed Shearwater burrows. Data on burrow occupancy on Isla Robinson Crusoe are largely lacking due to the birds' long, inaccessible burrows; however, Hodum and Wainstein used the island-wide burrow count and limited data on burrow occupancy to estimate 5,100 breeding pairs for this island (unpubl. data 2006). On Isla Mocha, a 1988 census using transects and sub-plots on the colony estimated 13,000–17,000 breeding pairs (Guicking 1999).

The breeding activity data from Isla Santa Clara suggest that this population is stable and possibly increasing (P. Hodum and M. Wainstein unpubl. data 2006). All documents and reports published since 1999 state that the population of Pink-footed Shearwaters on Isla Robinson Crusoe has been “more or less stable over the past 15 years”; however, there are insufficient data to accurately assess population trends (Guicking 1999, COSEWIC 2004, Commission for Environmental Cooperation [CEC] 2005). At Isla Mocha, the Pink-footed Shearwater is believed to be declining (Guicking 1999) but it is not possible to accurately assess the population trend without a complete census.

Total estimates from all breeding colonies suggest that there are between 21,500 and 25,500 breeding pairs. There is a discrepancy between the global breeding population estimate provided by BirdLife International (2005) and the estimate from the breeding colonies, reflecting the incomplete understanding of the full breeding distribution and status of the species in Chile. The Isla Mocha estimate was based on a single survey and the associated error is unknown. It is also important to note that there may well be as-yet-undiscovered breeding colonies on islands south of 44°S. Alternatively, the population reported by BirdLife may be an overestimate.

The global conservation status rank of the Pink-footed Shearwater (G1G2Q – critically imperilled to imperilled, questionable taxonomy) has not changed since the writing of the COSEWIC status report. For the same reasons as those noted for the Short-tailed Albatross, the BC conservation status rank for the Pink-footed Shearwater is currently SNA (L. Ramsay, pers. comm. 2006). The Pink-footed Shearwater is listed as Vulnerable in Chile (Rottmann and López-Callejas 1992, Glade 1993). The species is considered Vulnerable by the IUCN, and is listed in Appendix 1 of the CMS.

During the breeding season (November to May), the Pink-footed Shearwater is common in coastal Chile, especially north of 40–42°S (Guicking 1999). Following breeding, birds move north along the western coasts of South America towards North America, with the non-breeding (May to October) marine range extending north to the south coast of Alaska, although generally, only a few individuals are observed north of Vancouver Island (51°N; K. Morgan, pers. comm. 2006). In Canada, Pink-footed Shearwaters occur from late March through late October (Martin and Myers 1969, Morgan et al. 1991, Burger 2003), with the majority of birds observed from late June through early September. There are no winter records of Pink-footed Shearwaters in Canadian waters (figures 4 - 6). Based on the density of birds observed during Environment Canada's pelagic surveys and the geographic extent of the species' occurrence (COSEWIC 2004), possibly between 10,000 and 20,000 Pink-footed Shearwaters may occur within Canadian waters for varying lengths of time (K. Morgan, pers. comm. 2006). However, that estimate is based strictly on extrapolation of average at-sea densities and does not take into account spatial/temporal variability in survey effort. Consequently, the precise number of Pink-footed Shearwaters that occur off the west coast of Canada during the non-breeding season is unknown. There are no data to estimate changes in geographical distribution, and there are no data to compare historical and current at-sea population sizes throughout the species range.

1.4 Needs of the Short-tailed Albatross and the Pink-footed Shearwater

1.4.1 Habitat and biological needs

For more detailed information on the habitat and biological needs of these two species, see the COSEWIC status reports (COSEWIC 2003, 2004).

Short-tailed Albatross

Short-tailed Albatrosses are colonial breeders that nest on isolated, offshore islands, with restricted human access (Sherburne 1993). Historically, the species used level, open areas adjacent to tall clumps of grass for nesting. Tickell (in Hasegawa and DeGange 1982) described the nests as scoops in the volcanic ash, lined with and built up by grass.

At-sea observations (Sanger 1972, Camp 1993, Sherburne 1993, Federal Register 2000, Piatt et al. 2006) and recent satellite tracking studies (Suryan et al. 2006, 2007) indicate that Short-tailed Albatrosses are associated with the outer continental shelf and upper slope waters; marine habitats that are characterised by upwelling and high biological productivity (USFWS 2005, Piatt et al. 2006). In Canada, pelagic bird surveys by Environment Canada and the International Pacific Halibut Commission indicate that Short-tailed Albatrosses are found over the outer continental shelf (< 200 m) and upper slope waters (200-1000 m), although they also occur over deeper waters (> 1000 m).

The Short-tailed Albatross feeds at the surface during the day or night (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982, Prince and Morgan 1987, Sherburne 1993) and is known to feed on squid, fish, flying fish eggs, shrimp and other crustaceans (Prince and Morgan 1987, Federal Register 2000).

Figure 3a. Track line of a hatch year (< 1 year old) Short-tailed Albatross along the west coast of North America, during November 2003. The bird was captured at sea in Seguam Pass (52˚ 26' N x 172˚ 46' W) in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, in mid-August (2003) and was fitted with a satellite transmitter. Figure used with permission, data from Suryan et al. 2006.

Figure 3a.  Track line of a hatch year (< 1 year old) Short-tailed Albatross along the west coast of North America, during November 2003. The bird was captured at sea in Seguam Pass (52˚ 26' N x 172˚ 46' W) in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, in mid-August (2003) and was fitted with a satellite transmitter.


Figure 3b. Track line of a hatch year Short-tailed Albatross throughout the Gulf of Alaska and along the west coast of North America, during the summer and fall of 2006. The bird was captured at sea in Seguam Pass, in July (2006) and was fitted with a satellite transmitter. Figure used with permission; from: R. Suryan and G. Balogh unpubl. data.

Figure 3b. Track line of a hatch year Short-tailed Albatross throughout the Gulf of Alaska and along the west coast of North America, during the summer and fall of 2006. The bird was captured at sea in Seguam Pass, in July (2006) and was fitted with a satellite transmitter.


Pink-footed Shearwater

The Pink-footed Shearwater nests in burrows on grassy or sparsely vegetated slopes, up to 380 m above sea level. On Isla Santa Clara, they nest in relatively short burrows (0.5-2.2 m) on denuded to moderately vegetated slopes, whereas on Isla Robinson Crusoe they nest in burrows that regularly exceed 3 m in length, in fragile terrain that typically lacks dense vegetation cover or soil stability and contains numerous subterranean rocks and boulders.

Satellite tracking of three adult Pink-footed Shearwaters from Isla Mocha during the chick-rearing period identified a major foraging area up to 300 km north of the colony, near the Chilean mainland (Guicking et al. 2001). On Isla Santa Clara, a multi-year satellite-tracking study of chick-rearing Pink-footed Shearwaters revealed that they travelled eastward to the cool, productive waters at the shelfbreak off the coast of Chile, the same region in the Humboldt Current used by the birds tracked north from Isla Mocha (P. Hodum, D. Hyrenbach and M. Wainstein unpubl. data 2006). As well, some birds from Isla Santa Clara made short foraging trips north and southwest of the colony, remaining over deep waters (> 2000 m; P. Hodum unpubl. data 2005, 2006). In Chile, both breeding and non-breeding Pink-footed Shearwaters associate with warm (14-18°C), high salinity, surface waters (Guicking et al. 2001). As in Chile, most birds in Canada and the USA are encountered over the continental shelf and along the upper slope (Guzman and Myres 1983, Briggs et al. 1987, K. Morgan unpubl. data 2006; figures 4-6).

Pink-footed Shearwaters feed at the surface, as well as surface and aerial plunge-dive to pursue prey (Ainley and Sanger 1979, Ribic and Ainley 1988/1989, P. Hodum, pers. comm. 2006). Foraging dives average 2.1 m deep (n=1,362), with less than 5% greater than 5 m deep; the maximum known depth is 36 m (P. Hodum and S. Shaffer unpubl. data 2006).

The diet of breeding and wintering Pink-footed Shearwaters in Chile and Peru consists mainly of forage fish, especially sardines (Sardinops sagax) and anchovies (Engraulis ringens; Ainley 1976, Guicking et al. 2001). Stable isotope analyses of chick and breeding adult blood confirmed that the diet of both adults and immature birds is dominated by forage fish. Low numbers of squid beaks found in diet samples of breeding birds suggest that squid are a minor prey item compared with forage fish (P. Hodum unpubl. data 2006). However, Baltz and Morejohn (1977) found a high proportion of squid in the stomachs of five Pink-footed Shearwaters collected off Monterey, California, suggesting a shift in diet away from their nesting colonies.

Figure 4. Distribution of Pink-footed Shearwater sightings in Canada and adjacent waters during spring (1982-2006). Data from: Environment Canada.

Figure 4. Distribution of Pink-footed Shearwater sightings in Canada and adjacent waters during spring (1982-2006). Data from: Environment Canada.


Figure 5. Distribution of Pink-footed Shearwater sightings in Canada during summer (1982-2006). Data from: Environment Canada and the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Figure 5. Distribution of Pink-footed Shearwater sightings in Canada during summer (1982-2006). Data from: Environment Canada and the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Figure 5. Distribution of Pink-footed Shearwater sightings in Canada during summer (1982-2006). Data from: Environment Canada and the International Pacific Halibut Commission.


Figure 6. Distribution of Pink-footed Shearwater sightings in Canada during fall (1982-2006). Data from: Environment Canada.

Figure 6. Distribution of Pink-footed Shearwater sightings in Canada during fall (1982-2006). Data from: Environment Canada.

1.4.2 Ecological role

The ecological role of the Short-tailed Albatross and the Pink-footed Shearwater is similar to that of other surface-feeding seabirds that consume similar prey items within Canadian waters. These seabirds occupy an upper trophic level position and consume secondary producers (e.g., forage fish and squid). Short-tailed Albatrosses and Pink-footed Shearwaters are members of the order Procellariiformes (or tube-nosed birds which includes albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels and fulmars). In albatrosses, the nostrils stick out from both sides of the bill; whereas in shearwaters and other tube-nosed birds, the nostrils sit at the base of the upper bill. Tube-nosed birds differ from most other birds in that they have a highly developed sense of smell, which helps them locate food and breeding sites.During both the breeding and non-breeding seasons, tube-nosed birds may travel long distances to locate prey patches to feed themselves and their chicks (e.g., > 1,700 km, Sooty Shearwaters [Puffinus griseus]; Weimerskirch 1998), and these patches may be predictable in space or time because of their relation to seasonal coastal upwelling, seamounts or the continental shelf. Using an allometric equation developed by Birt-Friesen et al. (1989), Hunt et al. (2000) calculated that the daily energy requirements of the Short-tailed Albatross and the Pink-footed Shearwater were approximately 8,165 kJ and 1,370 kJ each day, respectively. The estimated daily energetic requirement of each Short-tailed Albatross is more than double that needed by individual Black-footed Albatross (4,000 kJ/day) or Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis, 3,900 kJ/day). Of the seven species of shearwaters known to occur within Canada's west coast EEZ, only the Sooty Shearwater requires more daily energy (1,460 kJ/day; Hunt et al. 2000) than the Pink-footed Shearwater.

Short-tailed Albatrosses may serve as prey for other upper trophic level predators; for example, in recent years, a few chicks have been taken by Steller's Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus pelagicus) on their breeding grounds in Japan. Both Short-tailed Albatrosses and Pink-footed Shearwaters (eggs, chicks or adults) may also serve as prey for a number of introduced vertebrate predators on their colonies (see Threats, Section 1.5).

1.4.3 Limiting factors

Globally, population growth in both the Short-tailed Albatross and the Pink-footed Shearwater is limited by factors characteristic of all procellariiforms: low fecundity (one egg per year, maximum); delayed maturity (age at first breeding is 5-6 years); and high mate fidelity (if a mate is lost during the breeding season, breeders may have several failed breeding attempts or lose their nest site). Both species are limited by a restricted number of breeding locations. Short-tailed Albatrosses may lose nesting habitat due to volcanic eruption and both species are affected by anthropogenic factors, e.g., predation by non-native species; and Pink-footed Shearwaters are threatened by an illegal harvest on the breeding grounds (see Threats on the breeding grounds, Section 1.5.2). In Canada, both species may be limited by prey availability, especially where their prey are affected by changing oceanographic conditions.

1.5 Threats

This recovery strategy emphasises and addresses all threats in Canadian waters but it is acknowledged that threats at the breeding colonies likely have a greater effect on the two species than threats occurring in Canada. The threats outside Canada are the main reasons for the COSEWIC assessment of both species and influence their ability to recover within Canada; therefore they are included here. Threats at sea (ones that can be addressed locally) and threats on the breeding grounds (not able to be directly addressed in Canada) are discussed separately. The threat categorization in Tables 1 and 2 is based on the federal threat identification guidance document (Environment Canada 2006).

1.5.1 Threats at sea

Threats at sea fall under the threat categories of “Accidental Mortality”, “Pollution” and “Climate and Natural Disasters”, and are summarized in Table 1. The identified threats are relevant and applicable to both species when they are in Canadian waters, but are also applicable elsewhere in their range. Negative interactions with commercial fisheries, oil pollution and the ingestion of plastics and other pollutants (Cifuentes et al. 2003) threaten individual birds. Oil pollution could affect individual birds and marine habitat quality. The development of marine wind farms and construction of oil platforms along the BC coast have the potential to restrict access to important foraging areas, to degrade marine habitats, and to change the distribution of prey populations. The oil platforms and wind farm structures also pose a potential risk to birds through the birds colliding with the structures, as well as incineration in oil platform flares.

Accidental Mortality: Bycatch and entanglement from interactions with commercial fisheries

Entanglement and incidental mortality in the commercial Pacific demersal (just above the seafloor) longline, and coastal gillnet fisheries is considered to be a potential threat to both species and was listed as one of the reasons for their designation in Canada (COSEWIC 2003, 2004). While bycatch and entanglement are issues throughout their range, this section focuses on these threats in Canadian territorial waters.

Incidental mortality in longline fisheries occurs when a seabird attempts to steal bait from hooks set from a fishing vessel. Birds are sometimes accidentally hooked and pulled underwater with the groundline and drown. The surface foraging behaviour of both species, but in particular Short-tailed Albatrosses, may increase their risk of incidental mortality if vessels discharge fish and fish parts when they are setting their hooks (USFWS 2005). Mortality in coastal gillnets occurs when seabirds (including shearwaters) dive below the surface to pursue prey and become entangled; there are no records of albatross mortality in Canadian gillnets.

In Canada, the Pacific commercial demersal longline fishing effort (for Pacific halibut, Hippoglossus stenolepis, and rockfish, Sebastes spp.) is concentrated along the continental shelf with additional effort along the coast of northern Vancouver Island and Queen Charlotte Sound (Smith and Morgan, 2005). Black-footed Albatrosses were the most frequently caught seabird in Pacific longline fisheries (Smith and Morgan 2005). The maximum overlap between fishing effort and Black-footed Albatrosses occurs during the summer months along the shelfbreak (Wiese and Smith 2003). Most observations of Short-tailed Albatrosses and Pink-footed Shearwaters are from the outer continental shelf and the upper slope regions (figures 2-6), but no studies have been done to estimate the potential overlap between longline fisheries and Short-tailed Albatrosses or Pink-footed Shearwaters in Canada. Between 1995 and 2003, six Short-tailed Albatrosses were reported as bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, (USFWS 2005), illustrating the potential for similar interactions in BC waters. The Alaskan fishery for groundfish and halibut has mandatory seabird avoidance measures (Melvin et al. 2006). The coastal commercial gillnet fishery targets Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) and the gillnet sets coincide with many species of marine birds in space and time (Smith and Morgan 2005). The gillnet fisheries off the west coast of Vancouver Island, where Pink-footed Shearwaters co-occur with other species of shearwaters, have reported the incidental take of Short-tailed (Puffinus tenuirostris) and Sooty Shearwaters (Smith and Morgan 2005); however, there have been no reports of Pink-footed Shearwater bycatch in BC waters.

To date, Canadian at-sea fishery observer programs have not reported bycatch of Short-tailed Albatrosses or Pink-footed Shearwaters in either commercial longline or gillnet fisheries (L. Yamanaka, pers. comm. 2005). No Short-tailed Albatrosses or Pink-footed Shearwaters were salvaged from a seabird bycatch salvage program between 2000 and 2005 but a Short-tailed Shearwater was salvaged from the halibut longline fishery. That bird was misidentified as a Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba), highlighting the importance of a salvage program in order to obtain accurate species identifications (Smith and Morgan 2005).

In 2002, Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO) introduced mandatory seabird avoidance measures for all licensed longline vessels. Initially, compliance was inconsistent as many vessels believed that the use of the mitigation devices was voluntary. However, since 2004, DFO has actively enforced compliance, all groundfish hook and line management plans have seabird avoidance as an enforcement priority, and charges are regularly made (T. Mawani, pers. comm., 2007). 

The bycatch of albatrosses can be age- or sex-biased, depending on the location and timing of albatross foraging in relation to local fishery concentrations (Cochrane and Starfield 1999). Six of seven Short-tailed Albatrosses reported as bycatch in Alaska (between 1983 and 1998) were immature (Cochrane and Starfield 1999). This is a potential concern for Canada's mitigation programs because to date, the majority of Short-tailed Albatross sightings within Canadian waters have been reported as immatures (COSEWIC 2003). Since 1996 there have been 34 Short-tailed Albatrosses observed within or in close proximity to the Canadian EEZ; only five were identified as adult birds (K. Morgan unpubl. data 2006). Immature Short-tailed Albatrosses may be more susceptible to being accidentally caught as bycatch than adults; young birds more readily approach fishing vessels than adults (R. Suryan, pers. comm., 2007). While it is generally accepted that increasing adult survival rates has the highest effect on increasing projected population growth rates, Cochrane and Starfield (1999) suggested that an increase in immature survival rates (by reducing fishery-related mortality) could theoretically have a large effect on increasing the population growth rates of the historically depleted Short-tailed Albatross.

The Pink-footed Shearwater is one of nine species in Peru listed as vulnerable to bycatch and needing special attention (Goya and Cárdenas 2003). Peru's pelagic longline fishery has reported a seabird bycatch rate of 0.74-1.75 birds/1,000 hooks (all seabird species). However, despite that report, the Pink-footed Shearwater was not included in the annex list of seabirds accorded priority for studies and conservation in Peru. No mitigation measures have been adopted in this fishery (J. Cooper, pers. comm. 2005) and a National Plan of Action has not been completed.

With respect to derelict fishing gear, all seabirds are vulnerable to becoming entangled although the magnitude of these impacts is unknown for the two species covered in this recovery strategy. On Torishima Island, three to four Short-tailed Albatrosses come ashore entangled in fishing line each year, some of which die as a result (H. Hasegawa, pers. comm. 2001). Lost or abandoned gear (e.g., sections of gill nets that float at or near the surface) is a potential threat to both the Short-tailed Albatross and the Pink-footed Shearwater throughout their marine range (BirdLife International 2005). The magnitude of this impact is unknown in Canada.

Accidental Mortality: Marine industrial development: oil exploration and wind farms

Marine wind farms and oil platforms can cause direct mortality through collisions or indirect mortality by degrading or preventing access to foraging areas. In addition, oil platforms would increase oil tanker traffic; thereby increasing the chances of an oil spill. Marine wind farms are not presently thought to be a threat to the Short-tailed Albatross and the Pink-footed Shearwater, due to an assumed lack of spatial overlap between proposed wind farm sites and the marine range of these two species in Canada. Future wind farm proposals for Canadian coastal waters should be evaluated for potential impacts on these species. Studies have shown that migrating waterbirds (e.g., loons, seaducks, etc.) appear to avoid wind farms in Europe (e.g., Desholm and Kahlert 2005). If proposed energy developments are placed in critical foraging areas for either species, they could exclude birds from these areas and ultimately affect population survival rates. Similarly, if the current moratorium on oil exploration along BC's coast is lifted, the potential for spatial conflict with seabirds exists, and proposed locations and facilities should be evaluated for impacts.

Pollution: Oil spills, chronic oil pollution, plastics and other pollutants

Oil at the surface of the water causes physiological problems for seabirds as a result of petroleum toxicity (ingested or absorbed) and interference with the affected bird's ability to thermoregulate. Fouling of seabirds from oil could arise from the dumping of oily bilge water into marine habitats, chronic spills or leakage from oil platforms or terrestrial sources, or from acute oil spill accidents (CEC 2005, USFWS 2005). Oil spills or discharges in or near key foraging areas could pose a high risk to the Short-tailed Albatross and the Pink-footed Shearwater. Oil spills and illegal discharges of petroleum occur in many parts of the species' marine range, including Canada. On the basis of the marine distribution of the Short-tailed Albatross and the Pink-footed Shearwater, the potential exists for negative interactions between these birds and oil pollution. In general, seabirds are more at risk from smaller chronic spills than from large, catastrophic ones, as timing, frequency and location of spills are better predictors of the impact than is spill size alone (Burger 1993; Wiese and Robertson 2004).

For Canada specifically, recent discussions concerning the potential lifting of the federal moratorium on gas and oil exploration off the coast of BC highlights this risk. Drilling might occur in shallow areas within Hecate Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound and the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. Certain levels of hydrocarbon discharges are permissible during offshore oil and gas production, which may lead to light sheens around offshore rigs. Short-tailed Albatrosses and Pink-footed Shearwaters will occasionally form large single or mixed species rafts at sea (e.g., 135 Short-tailed Albatrosses were observed around a single fishing vessel in Alaska; Piatt et al. 2006), which increases the potential effects of a marine oil pollution event.

Existing commercial vessel traffic (tanker, cargo, passenger, fishing vessels) also pose an ongoing oil spill risk for coastal BC waters through collision, grounding, or illegal disposal of oily bilge. If Short-tailed Albatrosses and Pink-footed Shearwaters travel and forage along the continental shelf–upper slope, they move along a relatively narrow band bisected by shipping lanes. Thus, there is a high potential for these species to encounter either catastrophic or chronic discharges of oil. Most West Coast tanker traffic remains well offshore as a result of a voluntary tanker exclusion zone; however, other vessels use shipping lanes that parallel the shelfbreak off the west coast of Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands (P. O'Hara pers. comm. 2006).

Discarded plastic creates another pollution threat to seabirds (Baltz and Morejohn 1976). Most procellariiforms consume floating plastic objects, presumably mistaking them for prey (Blight and Burger 1997). The harmful effects of plastic ingestion include mortality or internal injury from sharp pieces of plastic, a reduction in ingested food volumes and dehydration (Sievert and Sileo 1993). Young birds may be particularly vulnerable before developing their ability to regurgitate (Sherburne 1993). Short-tailed Albatrosses breeding on Torishima regurgitate plastic debris (Federal Register 2000); and Pink-footed Shearwaters are also known to ingest plastic, based on diet samples from adult birds on Isla Santa Clara (P. Hodum, pers. comm. 2006).

Toxic chemicals in the marine environment pose a threat to seabirds. Becker (2000) documented elevated levels of mercury in the feathers of nesting Pink-footed Shearwater adults and in the downy plumage of young chicks on Isla Mocha (i.e., reflecting parentally-derived contaminant levels in the egg), whereas the body feathers of older chicks did not contain mercury. The author suggested that the contamination occurred during adult migration and wintering. Polychlorinated biphenyl residues have also been isolated from Pink-footed Shearwater eggs in Chile (Cifuentes et al. 2003). Data are limited on heavy metals and organochlorines in Short-tailed Albatross tissues (USFWS 2005), but high levels are well documented for other North Pacific albatross species (Finkelstein et al. 2006).

Climate and Natural Disasters: Climate change

The role of climate change on the marine environment, and on seabirds in particular, is an active area of research for both biological oceanographers and seabird biologists (cf. Robinson et al. 2005). The effects of decadal-scale regime shifts, the El Niño Southern Oscillation, and longer time scale trends on the habitats of marine birds are not well understood. However, mass adult mortality due to the out of phase timing of prey availability and the arrival of millions of Short-tailed Shearwaters in the Bering Sea, and a possible link to climate change, was described by Baduini et al. (2001). Decreased food availability and/or quality can also decrease the reproductive output of breeding seabirds, or the survival of their offspring (Crick 2004, Kitaysky et al. 2006).

Table 1. Threat classification table – summary of at-sea threats facing the Short-tailed Albatross (STAL) and the Pink-footed Shearwater (PFSH) in Canada and elsewhere in their range. See text for details.
Type of ThreatThreat Information
1. Bycatch and entanglement from interactions with commercial fisheries
Threat Category“Accidental Mortality”ExtentWidespread
General ThreatsFishing and derelict gearOccurrenceCurrentCurrent
Specific ThreatsBycatch in commercial longline and gillnet gear and entanglement in derelict gearCausal CertaintySTAL = Medium
PFSH = Low
STAL = Medium
PFSH = Low
SeveritySTAL = Moderate
PFSH = Unknown
STAL = Moderate
PFSH = Unknown
StressesIncreased mortality, reduced population sizeLevel of ConcernSTAL = Medium
PFSH = Low
STAL = Medium
PFSH = Low
2. Marine industrial development: oil exploration and wind farms
Threat Category“Accidental Mortality”ExtentLocalised
General ThreatsPresence of oil platforms and/or wind turbines in foraging areas and/or travel corridorsOccurrenceAnticipatedN/A
FrequencyPFSH = Seasonal
STAL = Continuous
Specific ThreatsMortality from collision with turbines, exclusion from foraging areasCausal CertaintyUnknownN/A
StressesIncreased mortality, reduced population sizeLevel of ConcernUnknownN/A
3. Oil spills, chronic oil pollution, plastics and other pollutants
Threat Category“Pollution”ExtentWidespread
General ThreatsCatastrophic and chronic releases of oil into marine environment; littering of marine environment with plastics; releases of heavy metals and organochlorine pollutantsOccurrenceAnticipatedCurrent
Specific ThreatsDirect exposure to oil, consuming plastics, bioaccumulation of pollutantsCausal CertaintyMediumMedium
StressesIncreased mortality, reduced population size, reduced productivity; lethal and sub-lethal effectsLevel of ConcernMediumMedium
4. Climate change
Threat Category“Climate and Natural Disasters”ExtentWidespread
General ThreatsAltered distribution and timing of availability of preyOccurrenceAnticipatedAnticipated
Specific ThreatsReduced foraging successCausal CertaintyMediumMedium
SeverityUnknown Unknown
StressesDecreased breeding success, possible increase in adult mortalityLevel of ConcernMediumMedium

1.5.2 Threats on the breeding grounds

Threats on the breeding grounds fall under the threat categories of “Climate and Natural Disasters”, “Consumptive Use”, and “Exotic and Invasive Species”. The threats identified under these three categories are only applicable to the species on their breeding grounds in Japan (Short-tailed Albatrosses) and Chile (Pink-footed Shearwaters). They are discussed in a single section for each species below and have been combined and referred to in Table 2 as threats A, B and C, respectively.

Climate and Natural Disasters, Consumptive Use, Exotic or invasive Species
Short-tailed Albatross

Approximately 80 percent of the Short-tailed Albatross population breeds at one of the two colonies on Torishima Island. Torishima is an active volcano that has erupted explosively in the past; an eruption during the breeding season could kill adults and chicks, as well as destroy nest sites and habitat (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982). Additionally, breeding habitat and nesting birds are threatened by frequent volcanic ash slides and erosion caused by monsoon rains that occur on the island (Federal Register 2000). It is suspected that ship rats (Rattus rattus) prey on eggs or hatchlings, although there is no direct evidence (Hasegawa 1984). In the past, feral cats posed a threat, although they are not a threat currently. Short-tailed Albatrosses raft together near Torishima and the Senkaku Islands (P. Sievert, R. Suryan, pers. comm. 2007) and oil pollution near the breeding colony could significantly affect the breeding population.

Pink-footed Shearwater

Threats to Pink-footed Shearwaters at or near their colonies include predation from introduced and native predators, harvesting of chicks, nesting habitat degradation and loss as a result of browsing activity by goats (Capra spp.), burrow-competition with European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus; Hodum and Wainstein 2004, CEC 2005) or trampling from cattle (Bos spp.), and light pollution from nearby towns (M. Wainstein, pers. comm. 2006).

Introduced and native predators threaten eggs and nestlings on Isla Mocha (cats, rats) and Isla Robinson Crusoe (cats, rats, coatimundis [Nasua nasua]) (Guicking 1999, Guicking and Fiedler 2000, Hodum and Wainstein 2003, 2004). Estimated maximum predation rates vary from 0-4%, depending on the colony (Hodum and Wainstein 2003, 2004). Introduced cattle and goats (on Isla Robinson Crusoe) and rabbits (on Isla Robinson Crusoe and Isla Santa Clara) cause habitat destruction. Cattle and goats trample burrows and their grazing leads to soil erosion. Rabbits were successfully removed from Isla Santa Clara in 2003 after a six-year eradication project (Ojeda et al. 2003, P. Hodum, pers. comm. 2006). On Isla Mocha, up to 20% of chicks are illegally harvested for food annually, which results in the loss of the young birds, the destruction of burrows, and may prevent future breeding (for multiple seasons) by destroying pair bonds.

Table 2. Threat classification table – summary of threats facing the Short-tailed Albatross (STAL) and the Pink-footed Shearwater (PFSH) on the breeding grounds. See text for details.
1. Threats on the breeding groundsThreat Information
Threat CategoriesA) “Climate and Natural Disasters”;
B) “Consumptive Use”;
C) “Exotic and Invasive Species”
ExtentLocalized at breeding grounds
General ThreatsA) Volcanic activity (STAL);
B) Harvesting of birds (PFSH);
C) Introduced species (STAL, PFSH)
OccurrenceFrom Current to HistoricN/A
FrequencyFrom Recurrent to ContinuousN/A
Specific ThreatsA) Loss of adults, chicks and eggs dues to ash slides;
B) Hunting of birds for feathers, harvesting of chicks;
C) Predation, competition, and habitat loss due to introduced species
Causal CertaintyFrom Low to HighN/A
SeverityFrom Unknown to HighN/A
StressesIncreased adult mortality, reduced productivity, reduced population, habitat alterationLevel of ConcernFrom Low to HighN/A

1.6 Actions Already Completed or Underway

1.6.1 Legal status and protection

Short-tailed Albatross:

  • Listed under Appendix 1 of The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES);
  • Listed as Endangered throughout its range under the United States Endangered Species Act (ESA) (65 Federal Register 147: 46643-46654). Short-tailed Albatrosses are also listed as Endangered in the State of Alaska (Alaska Statutes, Article 4, Sec. 16.20.19);
  • In 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a Draft Recovery Plan for the Short-tailed Albatross for public review;
  • Designated by the Japanese Government as a Special Natural Monument (Hasegawa and DeGange 1982), as a Special Bird for Protection, and a Domestic Endangered Species under the Species Conservation Act; and
  • Torishima Island was designated as a Natural Monument (USFWS 2005); harvest is prohibited, and human activities and disturbance are restricted.

Pink-footed Shearwater:

  • Listed as Vulnerable in Chile (Rottmann and López-Callejas 1992, Glade 1993).
  • The Juan Fernández Archipelago was declared a Chilean National Park in 1935, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1977, and is included in the World Heritage List (Schlatter 1984, Guicking and Fiedler 2000); and
  • In the late 1980s, Isla Mocha was declared a national reserve (Reserva Nacional Isla Mocha). Both the Juan Fernández Archipelago and Isla Mocha are managed by the Corporación Nacional Forestal (Bourne et al. 1992, Guicking 1999).

Short-tailed Albatross and Pink-footed Shearwater:

Most migratory birds in Canada are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act (MBCA); the Act fulfilled the terms of the Migratory Birds Convention (of 1916) between Canada and the U.S.A. The purpose of the Act is to implement the Convention by protecting and conserving migratory birds; as populations and individual birds, and their nests. In 2005, amendments were made to the MBCA and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) to more effectively protect migratory birds and the marine environment from the negative effects caused by the discharges of harmful substances, such as oil, into marine waters. The enactment (Bill C-15) extended enforcement and judicial powers to the EEZ and refined tools required to enforce and prosecute violations that occur in this zone. The MBCA, the CEPA, the Canadian Shipping Act, the Oceans Act and the Fisheries Act affirm the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of Canada over its EEZ. Game officers under the MBCA and enforcement officers under CEPA can now take action against harmful substances discharged at sea, to protect wildlife and marine waters.

The British Columbia Wildlife Act (BCWA) protects all native bird species listed on the American Ornithologists' Union checklist; the Act also states that anything included in the MBCA is also covered by the BCWA. The Short-tailed Albatross and the Pink-footed Shearwater are protected under Section 34 of the BCWA, which makes it an offence to possess, take, injure, molest or destroy a bird, its nest or egg.

1.6.2 Research: breeding colonies

The Pink-footed Shearwater colonies in the Juan Fernández Islands have been monitored regularly since 2001, with most breeding biology work conducted on Isla Santa Clara (Hodum and Wainstein 2003, 2004). The Isla Mocha population remains virtually unstudied, with the work of Guicking (1999) being the only colony-based investigation conducted since partial surveys undertaken in the mid-1980s. Satellite transmitters are being used to study movements during the breeding season (P. Hodum and M. Wainstein unpubl. data 2006, P. Hodum, pers. comm. 2007).

1.6.3 Fisheries related research and management

An International Plan of Action (Seabirds) was adopted by the FAO Committee on Fisheries in 1999. Member nations were encouraged to assess the levels of seabird mortality in their longline fisheries, and where necessary produce their own National Plans of Action (NPOA-Seabirds) to reduce this mortality. Canada has produced a NPOA to reduce seabird bycatch in longline fisheries (Fisheries and Oceans Canada 2007).

In 2002, Canada introduced mandatory seabird avoidance measures as a condition of licensing for all commercial longline vessels. Phased in over several years, more than 90% of all longline vessels are now monitored electronically. The remaining few longline vessels must carry an observer on each fishing trip and all vessels must record in their logbooks any seabirds caught (T. Mawani, pers. comm. 2007).

Numerous fisheries-related studies are being and have been conducted by the Washington Sea Grant Program to investigate ways to reduce seabird bycatch. These include investigating the effectiveness of gear modifications to reduce bycatch and analyzing the spatial/temporal distribution of Short-tailed Albatrosses and other seabirds (USFWS 2005).

In 2004, the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) was established under the auspices of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. The Agreement currently focuses on Southern Hemisphere albatross and petrel species but provides outreach about albatrosses in general (USFWS 2005). The species covered by ACAP will likely be expanded to include the three northern hemisphere breeding albatross species (K. Morgan, pers. comm. 2007).

The Pink-footed Shearwater was selected as a Marine Species of Common Conservation Concern by the CEC, an organisation mandated in 1994 by the North American Agreement for Environmental Cooperation under the North American Free Trade Agreement. The shearwater was selected as a pilot species to begin cooperative conservation work between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. The CEC developed a Pink-footed Shearwater North American Conservation Action Plan (NACAP, CEC 2005), and thus a plan for international cooperation and conservation actions exists to protect the Pink-footed Shearwater. This includes a pilot study initiated in 2006 intended to gain a better understanding of the species' migration, identify important foraging grounds, and determine the residency period and movement patterns in waters off the west coast of North America (P. Hodum and D. Hyrenbach unpubl. data 2006, P. Hodum and K. Morgan, pers. comm. 2006).

1.7 Knowledge Gaps

There are a number of gaps in our knowledge of the foraging habitats used by Short-tailed Albatrosses and Pink-footed Shearwaters in Canadian waters, as well as breeding success, burrow occupancy (Pink-footed Shearwaters) and demographic data (both species) from their breeding grounds. Increasing our understanding in the following areas would help evaluate the success of this recovery strategy and determine if recovery efforts in Canada were biologically meaningful.

Ecology and Biology

  1. Establish reliable estimates of the seasonal distribution and abundance of Short-tailed Albatrosses and Pink-footed Shearwaters, and the length of stay of individual birds in Canadian waters. Establish long-term population indices.

  2. Identify important (predictable, well-used) foraging habitats of populations of Short-tailed Albatrosses and Pink-footed Shearwaters in Canadian waters.

  3. Collect demographic data from any birds reported as fisheries bycatch, and support and participate in ongoing demographic research and modelling to improve our understanding of the species' specific vulnerabilities to threats and their ability to recover.

  4. Identify ways to use data from biotic (e.g., prey) and abiotic (e.g., temperature gradients) factors to model their potential influence on the seasonal distribution of Short-tailed Albatrosses and Pink-footed Shearwaters in Canadian waters.


  1. Quantify known or potential threats to Short-tailed Albatrosses and Pink-footed Shearwaters on foraging grounds and along travel corridors within Canada. Monitor and determine causes of mortality and injury in these areas.

  2. Determine the spatial/temporal overlap of commercial fisheries with Short-tailed Albatrosses and Pink-footed Shearwaters to determine where and when fisheries may have the potential to interact with either species. Evaluate the frequency and impact of all fishing gear types currently in use, and rank according to potential impact.

  3. Assist efforts to estimate the frequency and severity of bycatch of Short-tailed Albatrosses and Pink-footed Shearwaters in commercial fisheries within Canada's EEZ and international waters, including the analysis of data from existing fishery observer programs to identify where additional coverage may be needed in order to generate this estimate.

  4. Based on Threats 2 and 3, evaluate the use of fishing gear modifications to reduce the incidence of Short-tailed Albatross and Pink-footed Shearwater interactions/ mortality.

  5. Evaluate the frequency and impact of petroleum discharges in Canadian waters, and determine ways Canada can help to reduce these.

  6. Investigate the impact of heavy metals and organochlorine pollutants on Short-tailed Albatrosses and Pink-footed Shearwaters, and determine ways in which Canada can help to reduce these impacts.