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She's back! Wisdom, the seventy-something Laysan Albatross, dances in another season on Midway Atoll

Wisdom Dec 2023 Jon Plissner 4
Getting him up on his toes.  Wisdom (left, with her colour band on show) engages in a mutual display with a metal-banded bird, photograph by Jon Plissner, USFWS, 03 December 2023

Wisdom, a female Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis, who is the world’s oldest known wild bird, recently returned to the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.  She was first spotted for the 2023/24 breeding season on 1 December this year by US Fish and Wildlife Service Volunteer Nick Minnich, being identified by her red colour band Z3333.  Her last partner, named Akeakamai, has not been seen this and in the two previous seasons and is likely no longer alive.

“Jonathan Plissner, supervisory wildlife biologist at the national wildlife refuge, said he doesn’t expect Wisdom to nest this year, but he did witness the possibly 72-year-old seabird participating in mating dances.  Biologists [the late Chandler Robbins] first identified and banded Wisdom in 1956 after she laid an egg, and the large seabirds aren’t known to breed before age five.  It is estimated that Wisdom has produced 50-60 eggs and as many as 30 chicks that fledged.”

Because it is late in the year Wisdom will likely not lay an egg in the current breeding season.

Wisdom Dec 2023 Jon Plissner 3 A third bird joins in, photograph by Jon Plissner, USFWS, 03 December 2023

Information from the Facebooks groups of Friends of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Pacific Islands: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Read more about Wisdom in previous posts to ACAP Latest News from here.

John Cooper, Emeritus Information Officer, Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, 07 December 2023

Crash landings are a significant cause of mortality in Marion Island’s Grey-headed Albatrosses

Janine Schoombie GHA crashed 1
 This Grey-headed Albatross survived a crash landing in a lava field.  Not all are so lucky, photograph by Janine Schoombie

Janine Schoombie (Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, University of Pretoria, South Africa) and colleagues have published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series on mortality in Grey-headed Albatrosses Thalassarche chrysostoma crash landing in strong winds below their inland colony.

A Grey-headed Albatross flies over a lava field on Marion Island, photograph by Kim Stevens

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Albatrosses exploit winds to travel vast distances across the ocean. Their morphology is adapted for low-cost dynamic soaring flight, but these adaptations confer low manoeuvrability, which may be risky when flying over land. This study investigates how wind conditions influence Endangered grey-headed albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma crashes in the valley below an inland sub-colony on Marion Island. Carcass surveys were conducted in a 1 km2 area spanning the length of this sub-colony (ca. 4000 breeding pairs) from October 2017 to June 2021. Hundreds of adult and fledgling albatross carcasses were discovered, some with evidence of fatal crash-landings in the form of broken bones. Wind data measured on the cliff-top above the colony were hsupplemented by computational fluid dynamics simulations of wind vectors over Marion Island. Most crashes occurred below the centre of the colony, where there are strong gradients in wind speed and direction under the dominant westerly wind conditions. Observations of albatrosses in flight indicate that most birds are killed when attempting to leave the colony, specifically when flying low above ground in strong wind. An average of at least 41 adults and 40 fledglings died after crashing into the valley annually. This represents an estimated 2% of the annual production of fledglings, 0.5% of the estimated annual breeding adult population and 11% of the adult annual mortality, suggesting a substantial cost to breeding at this inland site. For these long-lived seabirds, even low levels of adult mortality can have potential demographic consequences. This is the first study to document persistent wind-driven, land-based mortalities in albatrosses.”


Schoombie, J., Schoombie, S., Connan, M., Jones, C.W., Risi, M., Craig, K.J., Smith, L., P. G. Ryan, P.G. & Shepard, E.L.C. 2023.  Impact of wind on crash-landing mortality in grey-headed albatrosses Thalassarche chrysostoma breeding on Marion Island.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 723: 213-225.

John Cooper, Emeritus Information Officer, Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, 05 December 2023

Celebrating the icy continent: 64 years of the Antarctic Treaty

Wandering Albatross near South Georgia 2 Kirk ZufeltWandering Albatrosses such as the one pictured, are known to forage in Antarctic waters; photograph by Kirk Zufelt

Today is Antarctica Day, a commemorative day underscoring the significance of the Antarctic Treaty as one of the most successful international agreements in history. The Treaty, which designates Antarctica as a scientific preserve devoted exclusively to peaceful purposes, has been instrumental in fostering an environment that has led to numerous breakthroughs in our understanding of Earth and its ecosystems. There are now 56 Parties to the Treaty which includes all 13 Parties to The Albatross and Petrel Agreement.

Over the past six decades, the Antarctic Treaty has emerged as a symbol of unity and shared commitment to the peaceful exploration of the southernmost continent. By promoting international scientific collaboration, the Treaty has paved the way for an abundance of research initiatives that have contributed to our collective knowledge of climate change, biodiversity, and glaciology. 

The ongoing dedication to the Treaty's core pillars will be essential in safeguarding Antarctica's unique environment and ensuring that it continues to be a beacon of international cooperation for generations to come. 

01 December 2023

A first for Marion Island: a hybrid Black-browed/Grey-Headed Albatross incubates an egg

BBA GHA hybrid incubating 21.10.2023 Michelle Risi 3
Hybrid Black-browed-Grey-Headed Albatross Red Y48 incubating an egg, Grey-headed Albatross Ridge, Marion Island, 21 October 2023, photograph by Michelle Risi

A Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris - Grey-headed Albatross T. chrysostoma hybrid has been recorded incubating an egg on sub-Antarctic Marion Island in the southern Indian Ocean.  One of two such hybrids known from the island (click here) the colour-banded bird (left leg red Y48, right leg metal SAFRING 9A-45744) was first observed occupying an empty nest during the current 2023/24 breeding season on 06 October 2023 on Grey-headed Albatross Ridge in the south of the island.  On a second visit on 21 October the bird was seen to be incubating.  This is the first record of a hybrid albatross breeding on Marion Island, and apparently the first definite breeding by a known hybrid Thalassarche albatross anywhere (click here).  The bird’s partner is a Grey-headed Albatross (left leg red Y96, right leg metal SAFRING 9A-87577) seen on the nest prior to laying and subsequently photographed taking an incubation shift on 18 November.  The hybrid and its partner’s genders are not known.

BBA GHA hybrid incubating 21.10.2023 Michelle Risi 3
The hybrid bird on its empty nest on 06 October 2023.  The red colour band on its left leg is partially visible, photograph by Michelle Risi

The hybrid is believed to have been metal banded on Grey-headed Albatross Ridge as a non-breeding bird in the 2008/09 breeding season.  On 7 October 2019 the colour band was added by Stefan Schoombie.  A publication in the journal Antarctic Science suggests that the bird may have fledged from the same Black-browed – Grey-headed Albatross mixed pair that successfully fledged a different hybrid bird in May 2007, that was subsequently seen (and described) back in the colony as a non-breeder nine years later in 2016.  In February 2018 this known-age bird  was photographed by Chris Jones occupying an empty nest.  That the two hybrid records are not of the same individual is confirmed because the 2007 bird was metal banded on its left leg prior to fledging (as are all fledglings within monitoring colonies on Marion Island), whereas the breeding hybrid discussed here wears its metal band on its right leg (as a bird of unknown age).

Further visits will be made during the breeding season to the hybrid’s nest to ascertain if the egg hatches and was therefore fertile.

GHA Nov 2023 Michelle Risi 2
Grey-headed Albatross red Y96
incubating on 18 November 2023 (when it was banded) is the hybrid’s partner.  Their nest is marked with a short section of a numbered PVC electrical conduit pole, photograph by Michelle Risi

Mixed species breeding pairs in the genus Thalassarche have been recorded producing fledglings between Black-browed and Campbell T. impavida Albatrosses on Campbell Island and between a Black-browed and a White-capped T. steadi Albatross on Bird Island in the South Atlantic.  Hybrids from these two mixed pairs have not been recording breeding.  Within the Diomedeidae, mixed pairs have produced hybrid young between Black-footed Phoebastria nigripes and Laysan P. immutabilis Albatrosses and between Northern Royal Diomedea sanfordi and Southern Royal D. epomophora Albatrosses.  In contrast to these Thalassarche hybrids, both Phoebastria and Diomedea hybrids have been recording breeding.

BBA GHA hybrid incubating 21.10.2023 Michelle Risi 2
Another view of red Y48 incubating in a colony of Grey-headed Albatrosses, photograph by Michelle Risi

With thanks to Maëlle Connan, Chris Jones, Richard Phillips, Stefan Schoombie and Kim Stevens.

Selected References:

Jones, M.G.W., Techow, N.M.S., Risi, M.M., Jones, C.W., Hagens, Q.A., Taylor, F. & Ryan, P.G. 2019.  Hybridization and cuckoldry between black-browed and grey-headed albatrosses.  Antarctic Science 32-10-14.  (click here).

Moore, P.J., Taylor, G.A. & Amey, J.M. 1997.  Interbreeding of Black-browed Albatross Diomedea m. melanophris and New Zealand Black-browed Albatross D. m. impavida on Campbell Island.  Emu 97: 322-324.

Phillips, R.A., Cooper, J. & Burg, T.M. 2018.  Breeding‐site vagrancy and hybridization in albatross.  Ibis 160: 907-913. (click here).

Rutt, C. 2013.  Hybridization of the black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses.  Western Birds 44: 322-333. (click here).

John Cooper, Emeritus Information Officer, Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels & Michelle Risi, Marine Apex Predator Research Unit, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa, 30 November 2023

New Caledonia to host the first Oceania seabird symposium in 2024

Noumea New Caledonia Sarah MacmillanNew Caledonia's capital, Noumea (pictured), will host the very first Oceania seabird symposium in 2024, photograph by Sarah Macmillan (cc)

The inaugural Oceania seabird symposium, 2024 Oceania Seabirds: talking, listening & hands-on, will be held in New Caledonia next year over 23 – 26 September. 

Recognised as a French overseas territory, New Caledonia is located in the Pacific Ocean approximately 1200 kilometres off the east coast of Australia and has a population of just over 270,000. It comprises of the main island of Grande Terre, the four Loyalty Islands (Ouvéa, Lifou, Tiga and Maré), the Belep archipelago, the Isle of Pines and a number of remote islands. 

The Pacific Community (SPC) Conference Centre in the capital, Noumea, is the venue for the event, co-hosted by, The Pacific Community (SPC), Institut de Recherche pour le Développement – France (IRD Noumea), Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the World Seabird Union (WSU).

The symposium's mission is to:

  • "Connect government policy makers, seabird conservation practitioners and scientists, land managers and communities from all Pacific Island countries and territories working with seabirds
  • Increase our collective understanding of the value of seabirds to Pacific economies and communities including cultural values
  • Highlight conservation and scientific initiatives currently underway or planned, to the benefit of region’s seabirds, their islands, and the seas where they occur and to the people of Oceania"

Information on the conference programme and schedule, abstract submission and student and participation support is yet to be released by organisers but will be available soon at the event website,

To register your interest in attending, complete the expression of interest form, here.

29 November 2023

The Agreement on the
Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

ACAP is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve listed albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.

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