ACAP Breeding Site No. 65. Torishima, where Short-tailed Albatrosses have survived both feather collectors and an active volcano

Torishima (“bird island” in Japanese) is located in the southern tip of the Izu Island chain in the western Pacific, approximately 600 km to the south of Tokyo, Japan, to which country it belongs.  It is a volcanic island approximately 2.5 km across with a total area of 4.79 km2.  The highest point is Mount Iwo at 394 m.  The last volcanic activity on the island was in 2002; previous major eruptions have led to loss of life.

Torishima, photograph by Hiroshi Hasegawa, Toho University

Torishima with the locations marked of the original Short-tailed Albatross colony at Tsubama-zaki and the new colony site at Hatsune-zaki

Courtesy of Hiroshi Hasegawa

Historically uninhabited, the island became the site of a feather-collecting operation beginning in 1886.  Over the course of the next two decades possibly five million Short-tailed Albatrosses Phoebastria albatrus were slaughtered for their feathers to use in down quilts and pillows.  Feather collecting continued until the early 1930s, and by 1949 there were no longer any albatrosses breeding on the island (click here).

Historical photographs of Short-tailed Albatrosses on Torishima

Courtesy of Yamashina Institute, c. 1930

Following the Second World War, a meteorological station was established on Torishima, and the workers reported Short-tailed Albatrosses breeding on the island in 1951.

Torishima was designated a National Wildlife Protection Area in 1954.  The level of protection was further increased when the island was designated as a National Natural Monument of Japan in 1958 and as a National Natural Treasure in 1965.  Japan also designated the Short-tailed Albatross itself as a National Natural Treasure in 1958 and as a Special Natural Treasure in 1962.

The meteorological station on Torishima was abandoned in 1965 because of safety concerns regarding volcanic activity on the island following severe earthquakes.

Abandoned meteorological station on Torishima photographed by Paul Sievert

The island is now a long-term study site for researchers from Toho University and the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology.  A permit is required to make a landing and only ship-based tourism occurs.

Short-tailed Albatross on Torishma, photograph by Hiroshi Hasegawa

Approximately 80-85% of the World's population of the Vulnerable Short-tailed Albatross breeds on Torishima.  The main breeding colony is situated at Tsubame-zaki, a steeply-sloping area located in the south-east of the island (see above map).  A total of 450 pairs bred at this site in 2013.

The Tsubame-zaki colony site is located on a sparsely vegetated, fluvial outwash that is prone to erosion.  Steep cliffs surround the colony and make access difficult  Photograph by Rob Suryan

Because the Tsubame-zaki site is prone to erosion and mudslides, despite transplantations and erosion control leading to temporary improvements in breeding success, researchers commencing in 1993 hoped to draw the Short-tailed Albatrosses to breed at another locality on Torishima.  After many years of consistent effort applying social-attraction techniques (model albatrosses and a sound system) in “Operation Decoy” (click here), Short-tailed Albatrosses have been successfully attracted to a new breeding site on the island.  The new colony is in a locality known as Hatsune-zaki, a gently-sloping area on the western side of the island.  A total of 148 pairs bred in this area in 2013.  Two breeding localities on Torishima spread the risk if the volcano re-erupts.  In 2012 and 2013 the island respectively supported totals of 538 and 598 breeding pairs in the two colonies combined (click here).

Decoys and recorded sounds of a crowded colony have drawn young Short-tailed Albatrosses to breed at the Hatsune-zaki colony site

Photograph by Rob Suryan

Two colonies of ACAP-listed and Near Threatened Black-footed Albatrosses P. nigripes totalling 2060-2150 breeding pairs are present on Torishima at Hatsune-zaki (from 1988) and Tsubame-zaki (click here).  Breeding by Black-foots on Torishima was first reported in 1957 (six pairs), although adult birds have been reported from 1929.  Their numbers have been steadily increasing since then.

Other seabirds that breed on the island include Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus and Near Threatened Tristram’s Storm Petrels Oceanodroma tristrami which suffer predation from Black or Ship Rats Rattus rattus.

Click here to read of efforts by Japan with USA support to create a breeding colony of Short-tailed Albatrosses on Mukojima, a non-volcanic island, utilizing translocation techniques.

With thanks to Hiroshi Hasegawa, Toho University, Margaret Koopman, University of Cape Town and Paul Sievert, University of Massachusetts Amherst for information and photographs.

Selected Literature:

Eda, M., Koike, H., Kuro-o, M., Mihara, S., Hasegawa, H. & Higuchu, H. 2012.  Inferring the ancient population structure of the vulnerable albatross Phoebastria albatrus, combining ancient DNA, stable isotope, and morphometric analyses of archaeological samples.  Conservation Genetics 13: 143-151.

Finkelstein, M.E., Wolf, S. Goldman, M.; Doak, D.F., Sievert, P R., Balogh, G. & Hasegawa, H. 2010.  The anatomy of a (potential) disaster: volcanoes, behavior and population viability of the Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus). Biological Conservation 143: 321-331.

Hasegawa, H. 1984.  Status and conservation of seabirds in Japan, with special attention to the Short-tailed Albatross.  In:Croxall, J.P., Evans, P.G.H. & Schreiber, R.W. (Eds).  Status and Conservation of the World’s Seabirds.  Cambridge: International Council for Bird Preservation.  pp. 487-500.

Hasegawa, H. 2006.  Ahodori ni Muchu (Passionate about albatross).  Tokyo: Shin-nihon Shuppan.  182 pp.

Hasegawa, H. & DeGange, A.R. 1982.  The Short-tailed Albatross, Diomedea albatrus, its status, distribution and natural history with reference to the breeding biology of other northern hemisphere albatrosses.  American Birds 36: 806-814.

Hayashi, K., Ogi, H., Tsurumi, M. & Sato, F. 1997.  Present status and conservation of Black-footed Albatross population in the North Pacific and on Torishima.  Journal of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology 29: 97-101.

Kuro-o, M., Yonekawa, H., Saito, S., Eda, M., Higuchi, H., Koike, H. & Hasegawa, H. 2010.  Unexpectedly high genetic diversity of mtDNA control region through severe bottleneck in vulnerable Albatross Phoebastria albatrusConservation Genetics 11: 127-137.

Sato, F. 2009.  Increase in pairs of the Short-tailed Albatross Diomedea albatrus at an artificial breeding ground.  Journal of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology 40: 139-143.

To access more publications on Torishima’s albatrosses click here.

Rob Suryan, Oregon State University,  Tomohiro Deguchi, Yamashina Institute & John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 12 March 2014 

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.

About ACAP

ACAP Secretariat

119 Macquarie St
Hobart TAS 7000

Tel: +61 3 6165 6674