Phoebastria nigripes 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Procellariiformes Diomedeidae

Scientific Name: Phoebastria nigripes (Audubon, 1849)
Common Name(s):
English Black-footed Albatross
Diomedea nigripes ssp. nigripes — Turbott (1990)
Diomedea nigripes ssp. nigripes — Stotz et al. (1996)
Diomedea nigripes ssp. nigripes — Cramp and Simmons (1977-1994)
Diomedea nigripes ssp. nigripes — Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993)
Taxonomic Source(s): Brooke, M. de L. 2004. Albatrosses and Petrels Across the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Identification information: Identification. 68-74 cm. Small, all dark albatross, uppertail coverts normally white. Dark bill, dark legs. Juvenile, even more uniform brown. Similar species. None within range.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2016-10-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S. & Symes, A.
Contributor(s): Flint, B., Gales, R., Gilman, E., Harrison, C., Lewison, R., Misiak, W., Mitchell, L., Morgan, K., Nel, D., Nisbet, I., Phillips, R., Rivera, K. & Shaffer, S.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Moreno, R., Small, C., Sullivan, B., Symes, A., Taylor, J.
An analysis of recent data suggests that this species's population is not undergoing rapid declines, as once thought, and is either stable or increasing. However, modelling of the likely effects of mortality caused by longline fishing fleets, combined with potential losses to breeding colonies from sea-level rise and storm surges, suggests it is appropriate to precautionarily predict a moderately rapid population decline over the next three generations (56 years), hence its classification as Near Threatened rather than Least Concern.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

Phoebastria nigripes breeds on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (USA), the US Minor Outlying Islands and four outlying islands of Japan, colonies having been lost from other Pacific islands (Whittow 1993, Cousins 1998). In total there are estimated to be 70,069 pairs breeding each year (Flint 2007, Naughton et al. 2007, ACAP 2017 ) in at least 16 locations. The largest populations sizes counted were 28,610 pairs counted at Midway Atoll for hatch year 2015 and 24, 565 pairs at Laysan Island for hatch year 2012.  Together these two sites represent approximately  72% of the global population as estimated by the highest count for each of 16 sites (12 sites surveyed within the last 10 years) (Flint 2007, Naughton et al. 2007, ACAP 2017). On Torishima, 914 chicks were reared from 1,219 pairs in 1998, compared with just 20 in 1964 (Cousins and Cooper 2000). In 2013, 2,060 pairs nested on Torishima (ACAP 2017).  The species disperses widely over the northern Pacific Ocean, particularly to the north-east, towards the coastal waters of North America. There have been occasional records in the southern hemisphere (Carboneras 1992, Fernandez et al. 2001, Hyrenbach and Dotson 2001, BirdLife International 2004, Hyrenbach et al. 2006).

Countries occurrence:
Canada; China; Guam; Japan; Korea, Republic of; Marshall Islands; Mexico; Micronesia, Federated States of ; Russian Federation (Eastern Asian Russia); Taiwan, Province of China; United States (Hawaiian Is.); United States Minor Outlying Islands
New Zealand
Present - origin uncertain:
Northern Mariana Islands; Palau; Philippines
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:29Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:146000000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):UnknownExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:12Continuing decline in number of locations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Upper elevation limit (metres):50
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


The breeding season population is estimates of 69,404 pairs, equivalent to 138,808 breeding individuals (ACAP 2012).

Trend Justification:  Monitoring data from three colonies in Hawaii, representing over 75% of the world's population, suggest that numbers may have decreased by 9.6% between 1992 and 2001 (Gilman and Freifeld 2003, USFWS data per E. Flint 2003). However, linear regression analysis of log-transformed counts at the same colonies suggests that the species’s population has remained stable since at least 1957 and has increased overall since 1923, and matrix modelling suggests that its population is currently stable or increasing slightly (Arata et al. 2009). In addition, trends over a three generation period (56 years) commencing in 1956 were estimated at +26% using TRIM (ACAP unpubl. data).

In 2003, estimated rates of incidental mortality in longline fisheries in the North Pacific Ocean (based on a moderate bycatch scenario of 8,000 birds being killed per year) resulted in a projected future decline of more than 60% over the next three generations (56 years), if bycatch mortality was not reduced through mitigation measures (Lewison and Crowder 2003). However, the demographic parameters for Lewison and Crowder’s (2003) model, namely survival probability, growth probability and fecundity, were based on data from the 1960s and 1970s, for which it was incorrectly assumed that no bycatch took place (Arata et al. 2009). This implies that the basic parameters for a stable population with no additional mortality were actually estimated from a population already experiencing significant bycatch, and were thus underestimated. This appears to have led to an overestimation of the declines that would result from the annual bycatch scenarios tested by Lewison and Crowder (2003), by counting this source of mortality both within the demographic parameter estimates and within the simulation scenario, effectively doubling the impact of fisheries (Arata et al. 2009). Nevertheless, likely bycatch levels are still predicted to cause a decline in the population, albeit not as rapid as previously projected (Arata et al. 2009). Other studies on this species have confirmed the impact of fisheries bycatch on survival (Verán et al. 2007) and the annual population growth rate (Niel and Lebreton 2005). Annual bycatch was estimated at 5,228 birds in 2005, which, if doubled to account for underestimation, approaches the maximum Potential Biological Removal (PBR) level of 11,980 birds, which is calculated to be the maximum level of off-take possible without causing a decline (Arata et al. 2009). The maximum PBR level for this species has also been estimated at 8,850 birds per year (Niel and Lebreton 2005) and 10,000 birds per year (Cousins and Cooper 2000).

It still remains necessary to robustly model the future impact of bycatch on this species. In the meantime, given the risk of bycatch approaching PBR, and potential risk to nesting habitat from sea-level rise modelled for Midway Atoll, site of the world’s largest Black-footed Albatross colony (Storlazzi et al. 2013, Reynolds et al. 2015), it seems appropriate to precautionarily project future declines approaching 630% over the next 56 years (three generations

Current Population Trend:Increasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No
No. of subpopulations:4Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

It breeds on beaches and slopes with little or no vegetation, and on short turf. The species feeds mainly on flying fish eggs, squid, fish and crustaceans (Harrison et al. 1983), but also on fish offal and human refuse (Cousins 1998, Conners 2015 – PhD thesis, UC Santa Cruz). During both the incubation and the chick-rearing periods, birds nesting on Tern Island forage widely throughout the North Pacific, including to the distant, productive California Current waters along the west coast of North America (Fernandez et al. 2001, Kappes et al. 2010). In contrast, during the brooding period, birds from Tern Island forage predominantly within 500 to 800 km of the island (Hyrenbach et al. 2002, Kappes et al. 2015, Conners et al. 2015, Gutowsky et al. 2015).

Systems:Terrestrial; Marine
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Unknown
Generation Length (years):18.8
Movement patterns:Full Migrant
Congregatory:Congregatory (and dispersive)

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

Its populations declined significantly owing to feather and egg collecting in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but then recovered during the first half of the twentieth century. Between 1978 and 1992, the population experienced elevated mortality from interactions with high seas drift-nets in the North Pacific (Johnson et al. 1993). Bycatch estimates from driftnets put yearly bycatch (at least in 1990) at c. 4,000 birds per year. Currently, the species interacts with longline fisheries in the North Pacific. In 2003, mortality was estimated to be at least 2,000 birds per year in the U.S. pelagic longline fleet based in Hawaii, and a further 6,000 in Japanese/Taiwanese fleets (Lewison and Crowder 2003). Recent observer data from the Hawaii longline fisheries, from 2010 to 2015 indicate the deep set longline fishery captured an estimated 66 to 535 black-footed albatrosses each year and the shallow set longline fishery captured an observed 19-49 birds per year The total Black-footed Albatross captured in these six years is 1,258 birds ( It has been recently estimated that on average 227 Phoebastria nigripes are taken annually in the Alaskan federal groundfish and Pacific halibut Hippoglossus stenolepis fisheries (in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands [BSAI], and the Gulf of Alaska [GOA] Fishery Management Plan [FMP] areas), which target Pacific cod Gadus macrocephalus, sablefish Anoplopoma fimbria, and halibut. Bycatch rates in the Japanese and Taiwanese longline fleets are still largely unknown. However, studies on this species have confirmed the impact of fisheries bycatch on survival (Verán et al. 2007) and the annual population growth rate (Niel and Lebreton 2005). Tracking studies show that post-breeding birds disperse over large distances to the oceanographic 'transition zone' where they are susceptible to bycatch in the various pelagic longline fleets (Hyrenbach and Dotson 2003, BirdLife International 2004, Hyrenbach et al. 2006, Zydelis et al. 2011, Gutowsky et al. 2014, 2015). Within this area, tracking revealed that fishing effort was heavy in the habitats utilised by the species, and that there may be a male bias in the individuals affected by bycatch. Along the west coast of the US, black-footed albatrosses interacting with fleets harvesting sablefish and Pacific hake can experience significant mortality risk (Guy et al. 2013).

Storm waves and sea-level rise may represent significant future threats, since the vast majority of the world population nests on islands below 10 m above sea-level. Recent models that consider dynamic wave action predict greater losses than anticipated of nesting habitat at lower values of predicted sea-level rise for several important breeding islands (Reynolds et al 2015; Storlazzi et al. 2013). These more realistic models, in concert with accelerating sea-level rise, suggest the possibility of repeated catastrophic reproductive failure in the future caused by the loss of nest sites.

Other threats include pollution (including oil spills, organochlorines and heavy metals) (Jones et al. 1996, Auman et al. 1997, Finkelstein et al. 2007), introduced predators such as the Polynesian rat Rattus exulans (Hasegawa 1984, Jones et al. 2008) and House mouse Mus musculus (which has been recently documented killing adult Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge), plastic ingestion (though this may not affect chick growth rate; I. C. T. Nisbet in litt. 2010) and volcanic eruption on Torishima (Harrison 1990). The Tohoku Tsunami of 2011 resulted in the deaths of thousands of Black-footed Albatross chicks in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Increased temperatures in the breeding colony due to climate change will likely pose a threat to Black-footed Albatross adults and chicks during the time they are forced to remain on land (incubation and pre-fledging periods). 

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

Conservation Actions Underway
All Hawaiian breeding localities are part of the US National Wildlife Refuge and Marine National Monument system or State of Hawaii Seabird Sanctuaries. In 1991, a 50 Nautical Mile Protected Species Zone was established around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. No longline fishing is allowed in this zone. In 2006, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument was established. Originally, Papahānaumokuākea protected an area of 362,073 km2; in August 2016, the National Marine Monument was expanded to 1,508,870 km2 and increasing the area in which the birds are protected from exposure to fisheries interactions (

Nearly 80% of the breeding population is counted directly or sampled every year. All sites except one have been surveyed since 1991 (Croxall and Gales 1998). Hawaiian longline fishing vessels are required to use a range of measures to reduce seabird bycatch. In 2001 and 2007, respectively, the USA and Canada released National Plans of Action to reduce the bycatch of seabirds in longline fisheries (NMFS 2001, DFO 2007). In 2002, the use of bird-scaring (or Tori) lines became a mandatory condition of licence in commercial halibut, sablefish and rockfish (Sebastes spp.) longline fisheries on Canada’s Pacific waters (DFO 2007). In 2006, the Committee on the Conservation of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the Phoebastria nigripes as Special Concern (a species at risk of becoming threatened or endangered) in Canada (COSEWIC 2006); and in 2009, the species was added to Schedule 1 of Canada’s Species at Risk Act, also as Special Concern (

In 2017 the first cohort of 15 Black-footed Albatross chicks from Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge  were translocated to James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on the island of O’ahu in  Hawaii as part of a plan to establish safe breeding colonies on high islands less at risk from loss due to inundation caused by climate change factors such as  sea level rise and increased storm frequency and intensity. 

In 2006, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission passed a measure to require large tuna and swordfish longline vessels to use at least two seabird bycatch mitigation measures when fishing north of 23o N. The Fishing Vessel Owners' Association, which represents the longlining captains in the halibut and sablefish fisheries along the US West Coast, has instructed its members to use streamer lines when fishing in Washington, Oregon and Californian waters.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue monitoring population trends and demographic parameters. Continue tracking studies to assess temporal and spatial overlap with longline fisheries (e.g. Zydelis et al. 2011). Adopt best-practice mitigation measures in longline fisheries within the species's range. Re-evaluate the location of the current boundary (23o N) for required use of seabird mitigation measures in the U.S. pelagic longline fisheries (Hyrenbach and Dotson 2003). 

Amended [top]

Amended reason: Map corrected.

Citation: BirdLife International. 2017. Phoebastria nigripes (amended version of 2017 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22698350A118603806. . Downloaded on 25 September 2018.
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