Antipodean Albatross

Introducing the Antipodean Albatross

Written by Finlay Cox on Antipodes Island

Diomedea antipodensis

The Antipodean albatross is a large albatross with a wing span of 3 metres. There are two subspecies that breed almost exclusively on the Auckland and Antipodes Islands. The Antipodes Island subspecies (D. a. antipodensis) breeds almost entirely on Antipodes Island. They forage over the continental shelf edge and deep water from south of West Australia to the coast of Chile. Foraging as far north as 27°S, and as far south as 72°S.

Antipodean albatross are large albatross with pink bills and plumage that varies in colour from black and white to chocolate brown depending on sex and age.

About 3700 pairs breed on Antipodes Island. Since successful breeders only nest every second year the total population of breeding birds is about twice as large.

Albatross adult. Photo by F. Cox

Albatross adult. Photo by F. Cox

Their food source includes squid, fish and discards from boats. This habit of following boats and taking bait from hooks has led to large numbers being killed in long-line fisheries. This probably led to a dramatic decline in numbers in the 70s and 80s which slowed with the demise of the southern bluefin tuna fishery and improvements in bird by-catch avoidance techniques.

Between 2005 and 2007 populations and breeding success at both the Auckland and Antipodes Islands dramatically declined, possible explanations could include by-catch in a new swordfish fishery, and or changing ocean conditions associated with global warming.

 

Albatross chick. Photo by F.Cox

Albatross chick. Photo by F.Cox

Antipodean albatross lay a single egg between December and February and take a whole year to hatch the egg and raise the chick. Both members of the pair incubate the egg and care for the young, taking shifts of up to 3 weeks while incubating.

Antipodean albatross are masters of low-energy flying, exploiting small updrafts created by wind and waves and rarely flapping their wings. They cover large distances at high speed to find sparsely distributed prey.  Their squid and fish diet is mostly scavenged, either taken from the surface or from shallow plunge dives. They are long-lived and don’t start breeding until they are between 7 to perhaps 20 years old and have an elaborate courtship lasting several years which initially involves a characteristic singing and dancing display. They form enduring pairs that mostly last until one of the pair dies.

Reference

Elliott. G.P.; Walker, K.J. 2013. Antipodean albatross. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz