Species Profile

Short-tailed Albatross

Scientific Name: Phoebastria albatrus
Taxonomy Group: Birds
Range: British Columbia, Pacific Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2013
Last COSEWIC Designation: Threatened
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Other Protection or Status | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Short-tailed Albatross

Short-tailed Albatross Photo 1



The Short-tailed Albatross is a large-bodied seabird with long, narrow wings specially adapted for extended soaring flights over the ocean surface. It is the largest of the North Pacific albatrosses and, when mature, is the only white-bodied albatross of the region. This seabird has a distinctive large, pink, hooked bill with a bluish tip. The adult has a white back, pale yellow head and neck, black wing tips and tail fringes, and pale legs and feet. Both males and females share the same coloration; there is no seasonal difference in plumage. Adults range in length from 84 to 94 cm, with wingspans of 213 to 229 cm. Breeding females produce one egg per year. First-year birds are entirely chocolate brown, and full adult plumage is attained only after 12 to 20 years of age.


Distribution and Population

The Short-tailed Albatross now breeds on only two islands south of Japan. The marine range of the Short-tailed Albatross extends from Siberia south to the China coast, into the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, south to Baja California, and through the North Pacific, including the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. In Canada, the species occurs only off the coast of British Columbia, where it has been observed in every month other than December. Short-tailed Albatross populations once numbered in the millions, but over-exploitation at its breeding colonies in the early 20th century reduced the species to near extinction. Currently, the global population is estimated to be about 2,130 birds. Protection and conservation efforts are helping the population to increase. Since 1996, 34 Short-tailed Albatrosses have been observed in or within 50 km of Canada's Exclusive Economic Zone.



The Short-tailed Albatross breeds in colonies, nesting on isolated, windswept, volcanic offshore islands where human access is limited. These birds seem to prefer level, open areas near tall clumps of grass. Nests are scooped out of the ground and are usually lined and built up with grass. Little is known about the Short-tailed Albatross’s marine habitat requirements, especially those surrounding the breeding colonies. At-sea observations and recent satellite tracking studies 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.



The Short-tailed Albatross is a pelagic seabird, which means it spends most of its time at sea, returning to land only to breed. The Short-tailed Albatross is monogamous (one mate for life), and most adult birds with surviving mates breed every year. Birds that lose a mate may take two years or more to establish another pair bond and breed again. Pairs return to the same nest sites year after year, and birds hatched at one colony generally return to that same colony to breed. Adults start to arrive at the colony in October to begin nest building. It is estimated that the Short-tailed Albatross breeds at six years of age, with egg-laying occurring in late October to early November. A single egg is laid, and both the male and female share in incubation. Eggs hatch in 64 to 65 days, in late December to early January. Chicks are almost full grown by late May or early June, and adults start to leave the colony at that time. Chicks fledge soon after the adults have left, and return to the colony two to five years later as non-breeders. After the breeding season, birds disperse north to the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea. Immature birds and some adults as well, disperse to the eastern and northern regions of the Pacific Ocean. The Short-tailed Albatross, like other species of albatross, matures slowly and is a very long-lived bird. It is estimated there is one generation every 26 years. The Short-tailed Albatross feeds at the ocean surface, mainly at night. It feeds on squid, fish, flying fish eggs, shrimp, and other crustaceans. The Short-tailed Albatross is known to follow fishing vessels and feed on discarded bait. During breeding, it may forage up to hundreds of kilometres away from the colonies. The bones of Short-tailed Albatrosses have been found in middens from St. Lawrence Island to California, suggesting that this species represented an important and abundant food source to the Native people of the west coast of the Pacific.



Throughout its range, the Short-tailed Albatross is vulnerable to becoming entangled in lost or abandoned fishing gear or caught incidentally in groundfish longline fisheries. Canadian threats include potential interactions with commercial longline or gillnet fisheries, oil pollution, the ingestion of plastics, and the bioaccumulation of heavy metals and other pollutants. The potential interactions with the commercial fishing industry include incidental take during fishing, and injury or entanglement in discarded nets and lines. Offshore oil and gas activities pose a potential threat, and proposed offshore wind farms potentially may degrade or prevent access to important foraging areas. Climate change poses a potential threat.



Federal Protection

The Short-tailed Albatross is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The Short-tailed Albatross is also protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, and the British Columbia Wildlife Act.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.


Other Protection or Status

The Short-tailed Albatross is included in Appendix 1 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and is listed as Vulnerable by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). In the United States, the Short-tailed Albatross is listed as Endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The National Marine Fisheries Service requires the Alaska longline fisheries to reduce bycatch by using bird avoidance techniques, and has set limits for incidental takes for the Short-tailed Albatross in three Alaska fisheries.


Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus) and Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry


Recovery Team

Pink-footed Shearwater and Short-tailed Albatross Recovery Team

  • Ken Morgan - Chair/Contact - Environment Canada
    Phone: 250-363-6537  Send Email


Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date A draft recovery strategy is about to be posted on the SARA Public Registry.Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities The Canadian Wildlife Service routinely conducts at sea Ship-of-Opportunity surveys (aboard Coast Guard vessels) to monitor abundance, distribution, and seasonality of pelagic seabirds off the west coast of Canada. Those data, spanning more than 18 years, are being analyzed and will be used to produce an atlas of the seasonal distribution of all pelagic seabirds off Canada’s west coast, including the Short-tailed Albatross. Satellite telemetry studies are elucidating movement patterns of Short-tailed Albatrosses during the breeding and non-breeding seasons, including in Canadian waters. Summary of Recovery Activities A database of all known sightings of Short-tailed Albatrosses in Canadian and adjacent waters has been created and a map has been produced. URLsEnvironment Canada Species at Risk website:http://www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca/search/sp eciesDetails_e.cfm?SpeciesID=797Government of Canada Species at Risk Public Registry:http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/status/showDocument _e.cfm?id=443COSEWIC webpage:http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/eng/sct1/searchdetail_ e.cfm?id=797&StartRow=1&boxStatus=All&boxTaxonom ic=All&location=All&change=All&board=All&com monName=Short-tailed%20Albatross&scienceName=&return Flag=0&Page=1


PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

13 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus in Canada (2003)

    The Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus (Pallas 1769), formerly Diomedea albatrus, is a large-bodied seabird with long narrow wings adapted for soaring just above the water surface. Adults are mostly white and black, with a pale-yellow head and pale legs and feet. In contrast, first year birds are wholly chocolate brown. The large pink bill is a distinguishing characteristic across age classes. Full adult plumage is attained after 12 to 20 years. The sexes are alike, with no seasonal variation in plumage.
  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus in Canada (2014)

    The Short-tailed Albatross is the largest North Pacific seabird and, like all albatrosses, is adapted for long-distance oceanic travel. The species was hunted for its feathers and came close to extinction in the 1940s as a result, but is now recovering because of careful management by Japanese biologists. Before the feather harvest, Short-tailed Albatrosses were common off the coasts of the eastern Pacific, but are now rare non-breeding visitors (immatures or adults not actively breeding) primarily to continental shelf areas off British Columbia (1-10 birds, mostly juveniles, observed each year since 1995).

COSEWIC Assessments

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Short-tailed Albatross (2004)

    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.
  • Response Statement - Short-tailed Albatross (2015)

    This species came close to extinction following decades of feather harvesting at its breeding colonies in the North Pacific. Since the end of the feather harvest, the population has increased significantly, although still well below historic numbers. The breeding population is, however, virtually restricted to two islands, one of which contains 85% of the breeding birds. The small breeding range makes the species highly susceptible to human activities or stochastic events. 

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus) and Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus) in Canada (2008)

    The Short-tailed Albatross and the Pink-footed Shearwater are migratory birds listed under the Migratory Birds Convention Act (1994) and are under the management jurisdiction of the federal Ministry of the Environment. SARA (Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed extirpated, endangered, or threatened species. Both species were listed as threatened under SARA in 2005. Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service - Pacific and Yukon Region led the development of this recovery strategy through the Short-Tailed Albatross and Pink-Footed Shearwater Recovery Team. The recovery strategy was developed in cooperation or consultation with: Fisheries and Oceans Canada Parks Canada Agency Government of British Columbia International conservation efforts are critical to the recovery of these species. This recovery strategy outlines recommended approaches within Canada. A number of other conservation plans exist to address these species internationally, including: the Pink-footed Shearwater North American Conservation Action Plan (Commission for Environmental Cooperation [CEC] 2005), developed cooperatively by Canada, the U.S. and Mexico; and the Draft Recovery Plan for Short-tailed Albatross, prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This recovery strategy is consistent with and supports these international efforts. Due to technical difficulties, the comment period for this proposed Recovery Strategy was extended until March 25, 2008.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site meets the requirements for an action plan set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA (s.47)) for species requiring an action plan that occur inside the boundary of the site. This action plan will be updated to more comprehensively include measures to conserve and recover the marine species at risk once the first integrated Land, Sea, People management plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve & Haida Heritage Site (hereafter called Gwaii Haanas) is complete. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in Gwaii Haanas.


  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2004)

    The Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (2005)

    The Minister of the Environment is recommending, pursuant to section 27 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), that 43 species be added to Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. This recommendation is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, Aboriginal peoples, wildlife management boards, stakeholders and the Canadian public.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2004 (2004)

    2004 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2013-2014 (2014)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to "assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species". COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2013 to September, 2014) from November 24 to November 29, 2013 and from April 27 to May 2, 2014. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 56 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2012-2013 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 0 Endangered: 23 Threatened: 12 Special Concern: 20 Data Deficient: 0 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 56 Of the 56 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 40 that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 25 of those wildlife species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act : Terrestrial Species - January 2015 (2015)

    The Government of Canada is committed to preventing the disappearance of wildlife species at risk from our lands. As part of its strategy for realizing that commitment, on June 5, 2003, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species provided for under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species on Schedule 1 benefit from the protection of prohibitions and recovery planning requirements under SARA. Special Concern species benefit from its management planning requirements. Schedule 1 has grown from the original 233 to 521 wildlife species at risk. Please submit your comments byApril 15, 2015, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultationsand byOctober 15, 2015, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations.For a description of the consultation paths these species will undergo, please see:Species at Risk Public Registry website
  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: November 2004 (2004)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.