COSEWIC Status Reports

COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) in Canada

The Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes Audubon 1839) is a relatively small member of the albatross family. Adult birds are completely dusky brown except for a whitish area around the base of the bill and under the eye, and white plumage over the base of the tail and undertail coverts; bill is dark and legs and feet are black. Juvenile birds have darker plumage than adults and lack white upper and undertail coverts. Sexes are similar although males are generally larger than females. Over the past decade, the use of genetic analyses has reawakened earlier controversy regarding classification of the Diomedeidae. Debate continues on the taxonomy of southern hemisphere albatross species but reclassification of the North Pacific albatrosses to the genus Phoebastria from their previous lumping with the southern genus Diomedea is well-supported, based on morphology and behaviour as well as on genetic data. Within Phoebastria the Black-footed Albatross is a well-established lineage as it diverged from its closest relative, the Laysan Albatross (P. immutabilis), about 7.9 million years ago. For present-day populations of Black-footed Albatross, analysis of mitochondrial DNA indicates significant genetic differentiation between birds breeding in Hawaii and Japan, suggesting that these two populations may be reproductively isolated despite considerable overlap in their at-sea distributions. There is little evidence to indicate the origin of birds visiting Canadian waters, although 13 birds caught as bycatch in a British Columbia-based longline fishery were all found to be of Hawaiian origin.

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COSEWIC Secretariat
c/o Canadian Wildlife Service
Environment Canada
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0H3
Tel: 819-938-4125
Fax: 819-938-3984
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