National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2006

Predictable hotspots and foraging habitat of the endangered short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus) in the North Pacific: Implications for conservation

Piatt, J.F., J. Wetzel, K. Bell, A.R. DeGange, G.R. Balogh, G.S. Drew, T. Geernaert, C. Ladd, and G.V. Byrd

Deep-Sea Res. II, 53, 387–398, doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2006.01.008 (2006)

The short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus) is a rare and endangered seabird that ranges widely over the northern North Pacific. Populations are slowly recovering but birds face several threats at sea, in particular the incidental capture of birds in long-line fisheries. Conservation efforts are hampered by a lack of information about the at-sea distribution of this species, especially knowledge of where it may predictably co-occur with long-line fishing effort. During 18 years of transiting the Aleutian Islands Unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge on a research vessel, we observed short-tailed albatross on 65 occasions. They were consistently observed near Ingenstrem Rocks (Buldir Pass) in the western Aleutians and near Seguam Pass in the central Aleutians. Based on the oceanographic characteristics of the locations where we saw most of the birds, we hypothesized that short-tailed albatross ‘‘hotspots’’ were located where tidal currents and steep bottom topography generate strong vertical mixing along the Aleutian Archipelago. As a test of this hypothesis, we analyzed a database containing 1432 opportunistic observations of 2463 short-tailed albatross at sea in the North Pacific. These data showed that short-tailed albatross were closely associated with shelf-edge habitats throughout the northern Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. In addition to Ingenstrem Rocks and Seguam Pass, important hotspots for shorttailed albatross in the Aleutians included Near Strait, Samalga Pass, and the shelf-edge south of Umnak/Unalaska islands. In the Bering Sea, hotspots were located along margins of Zhemchug, St. Matthews and Pervenets canyons. Because these short-tailed albatross hotspots are predictable, they are also protectable by regulation of threatening activities at local spatial scales.

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