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ACAP Breeding Site No. 69. Disappointment Island, Auckland Islands, home of the White-capped Albatross

Disappointment Island forms part of New Zealand’s Auckland Islands National Nature Reserve.  It is one of a number of islands of various sizes that surround the main island of Auckland, along with Adams, Enderby and several others.

Three views of Disappointment Island, from the air and from the main island

Photographs by Barry Baker

It lies some eight kilometres off the north-west end of the 510-km² main island.  Disappointment Island is 4 km long by up to 1 km wide with a stated area of 566 ha (also cited as 392 ha); it rises steeply from the sea to a plateau, with its highest point at 318 m.  It is covered in Poa litorosa tussock grassland and flowering megaherbs such as the Campbell Island Daisy Pleurophyllum speciosum, Ross Lily Bulbinella rossii and Macquarie Island Cabbage Stilbocarpa polaris, with scattered areas of Hebe elliptica  shrubland and fellfield around the island’s top.

Disappointment's steep slopes...

Photograph by Pete McClelland

 ...and its cliff-girt shoreline

Photograph by Paul Sagar

The island group is surrounded by a recently declared large marine reserve: the Auckland Islands/Motu Maha Marine Reserve that covers an area of c. 484 000 ha (click here).  Disappointment Island falls within the New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands World Heritage Site inscribed in 1998 which includes five island groups (Antipodes Islands, Auckland Islands, Bounty Islands, Campbell Island and the Snares Islands).  The island is also part of the proposed Auckland Islands Important Bird Area (IBA).

Gibson’s Antipodean Diomedea antipodensis gibsoni, White-capped Thalassarche steadi and Light-mantled Sooty Phoebetria palpebrata Albatrosses breed on Disappointment.  Gibson’s Antipodean Albatrosses breed on the plateau, whereas the other two albatross species breed on the island’s slopes and cliffs.  The first species had populations of 250 annually breeding pairs present in 1993 and 352 pairs in 1997.  A count is currently being made from aerial photographs of the plateau taken this last austral summer so an up-to-date census will become available soon.

White-capped Albatrosses breeding on sloping ground among the Silver-leaf Daisy Pleurophyllum hookeri and Poa litorosa tussock

Photograph by Paul Sagar

In January 2013 counts made from aerial photographs estimated the annual breeding population of the Near Threatened White-capped Albatross on Disappointment as 111 312 pairs, which represents c. 95% of the species’ total population.  When compared to aerial counts made in the previous half decade the population appears to be stable.  About 30 Light-mantled Sooty Albatross occupied nests were counted on aerial photographs taken in January 2014.

Two other ACAP-listed species are known to breed on the island: Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli and White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis.  Population estimates and trends appear lacking for them (click here).

White-capped Albatrosses in the air above their breeding colony on Disappointment

Photograph by Paul Sagar

 The yacht Tiama shelters below breeding White-capped Albatrosses in 2008

Photograph by Paul Sagar

Disappointment Island has a tragic history as its name suggests.  Two shipwrecks on the island or close by over a century ago led to the loss of life and parties being marooned in the island group for up to 18 months.  Unlike the main Auckland Island, Disappointment has remained free of introduced rodents and other mammals – and seemingly alien plants - despite the shipwrecks.

With thanks to Barry Baker, Pete McClelland and Paul Sagar for information and photographs.

Selected Literature:

Baker, G.B., Double, M.C., Gales, R., Tuck, G.N., Abbott, C.,L., Ryan, P.G., Petersen, S.L., Robertson, C.J R. & Alderman, R. 2007.  A global assessment of the impact of fisheries-related mortality on Shy and White-capped Albatrosses: conservation implications.  Biological Conservation 137: 319-333.

Baker, G.B., Jensz, K. & Cunningham, R. 2009.  Data collection of demographic, distributional and trophic information on the White-capped Albatross to allow estimation of effects of fishing on population viability ― 2008 Field Season.  Report prepared for the Ministry of Fisheries PRO2006-01H.  [Kettering]: Latitude 42 Environmental Consultants Pty Ltd.  14 pp.

Baker, G.B., Jensz, K. & Cunningham, R. 2010.  Data collection of demographic, distributional and trophic information on the White-capped Albatross to allow estimation of effects of fishing on population viability ― 2009 Field Season.  Report prepared for the Ministry of Fisheries PRO2006-01I  [Kettering]: Latitude 42 Environmental Consultants Pty Ltd.  13 pp.

Baker, G.B., Jensz, K. & Cunningham, R. 2013.  White-capped Albatross Population Estimate — 2011/12 and 2012/13 Final Report.  Report prepared for Department of Conservation Contract 4431 & Project POP2012-05.  [Kettering]: Latitude 42 Environmental Consultants Pty Ltd.  22 pp.

Department of Conservation 1998.  Conservation Management Strategy Subantarctic Islands 1998-2008.  Southland Conservancy Conservation Management Planning Series No. 10.  Wellington: Department of Conservation.  113 pp.

Department of Conservation 2006.  Marine Protection for the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands: a Background Resource Document & CD ROM.  Wellington: Department of Conservation.  48 pp.

Eden, A.W. 1955.  Islands of Despair.  Being an Account of a Survey Expedition to the sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand.  London: Andrew Melrose.  212 pp.

Estcott-Inman, H. 1911 (reprinted 1980).  The Castaways of Disappointment Island.  London: S.W. Partridge & Co.  319 pp.

Fraser, C. 1986.  Beyond the Roaring Forties New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands.  Wellington:  Government Printing Office Publishing.  214 pp.

Gales, R.P. 1998.  Albatross populations: status and threats.  In: Robertson, G. & Gales, R. (Eds).  Albatross: Biology and Conservation.  Chipping Norton:  Surrey Beatty and Sons.  pp. 20-45.

Peat, N. 2003.  Subantarctic New Zealand: a Rare Heritage.  Invercargill: Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai.  96 pp.

Russ, R. & Terauds, A. 2009.  Galapagos of the Antarctic: Wild Islands South of New Zealand.  Christchurch: Heritage Expeditions.  224 pp.

West, C.J. 2003.  New Zealand Subantarctic Islands Research Strategy.  Invercargill: Department of Conservation.  38 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 20 April 2014

Presentations on albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters at the Pacific Seabird Group’s 2014 meeting

The 41st Annual General Meeting of the Pacific Seabird Group was held in Juneau, Alaska in February this year (click here).  Abstracts of presentations given at the meeting on ACAP-listed albatrosses of the North Pacific, as well as on petrels and shearwaters, are listed by authors and title below.

Newell's Shearwater, photograph by Eric Vanderwerf

Tracy Anderson.  Saving Newell's Shearwaters-35 years of rehabilitation and release on Kaua'i

Cathleen Bailey, Joy Tamayose, Raina Kaholoaa, Steve Orwig, Kelly Goodale & Matt Brown.  Construction effects and video results for Hawaiian Petrels

Shane Baylis, Colin Miskelly, Alan Tennyson, Sue Waugh, Sandy Bartle & Stuart Hunter.  Causes of seabird mortality in the immediate aftermath of the Rena oil spill, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

Dave Cowan, Mitchell Craig, Gregory Spencer, David Ainley & David Zajanc.  An attempt to prevent the disappearance of Hawaiian Petrels (Pterodroma sandwichensis) and Newell's Shearwaters (Puffinus newelli) from west Maui, Hawaii

Danielle Fife, Ingrid Pollet, Gregory Robertson, Mark Mallory & Dave Shutler.  Apparent survival of adult Leach’s Storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) breeding on Bon Portage Island, Nova Scotia

Shannon Fitzgerald, Jennifer Cahalan, Jason Gasper & Jennifer Mondragon.  Preliminary estimates of seabird bycatch in the Alaskan halibut longline fishery in 2013 [Black-footed Phoebastria nigripes and Laysan P. immutabilis Albatrosses]

Britta Hardesty & Christopher Wilcox.  A multiple marker approach to identifying origins for unknown provenance seabirds caught as by-catch in fisheries [Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carneipes]

Yukiko Inoue, Sayaka Nakatsuka, Daisuke Ochi, Nobuhiro Katsumata, Yasuaki Niizuma & Hiroshi Minami.  Quantifying diet of Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses and the effect to their body condition using stable isotope analysis

Megan Laut & Adam Vorsino.  Using landscape models to prioritize areas for Newell’s Shearwater conservation

Daisuke Ochi, Hiroshi Minami, Takuto Kimura, Muneyoshi Eto & Ippei Fusejima.  Migratory patterns of Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses staying at the western Pacific through satellite tracking survey

Nariko Oka.  The sense of wonder for the foraging hotspots of migrant shearwaters in the northwestern Pacific

David Pereksta, Josh Adams, Michelle Hester, Jay Penniman, Lindsay Young & André Raine.  Habitat affinities and at-sea ranging behaviors among main Hawaiian Island seabirds

André Raine, Brooke McFarland & Matthew McKown.  When a seabird calls in the forest and no ornithologist is around to hear it - does a song meter record its sound? [Newell’s Shearwater Puffinus newelli and Hawaiian Petrel Pterodroma sandwichensis]

Ernst Rupp, Esteban Garrido, Holly Freifeld, Adam Brown & James Goetz.  Monitoring Black-capped Petrels (Pterodroma hasitata) nesting at Morne Vincent, Haiti and Loma del Toro, Dominican Republic

Wayne Sentman, A.E. Vo, Myra Finkelstein, Scott Edwards, Heidi Auman & Michael Bank.  Pollution canary - albatross as sentinels of marine pollution

Lesley Thorne, Scott Shaffer, Elliott Hazen, Steven Bograd, David Foley & Melinda Connors.  Effects of oceanographic variability on the reproductive success and habitat use of Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses

Andrew Titmus, Christopher Lepczyk & Suzanne Dauphine.  Distribution of Tahiti Petrel and Herald Petrel on Ta‘u Island, American Samoa

William Walker, Shannon Fitzgerald & Erica Donnelly-Greenan.  The diet of Northern Fulmars, Fulmaris glacialis, in the eastern Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands region: an exercise in the use of by-caught marine birds in investigations of natural feeding strategy

Takashi Yamamoto, Akinori Takahashi , Nariko Oka, Masaki Shirai, Maki Yamamoto & Nobuhiro Katsumata.  Inter-colony differences in the incubation pattern of Streaked Shearwaters in relation to the local marine environment

Ai Yamashita, Yutaka Watanuki, Yoshinori Ikenaka, Takashi Yamamoto, Yasuaki Niizuma & Richard Phillips.  Wintering area and mercury in the feather of Short-tailed Shearwater

Lindsay Young, Jessica Behnke, George Wallace, Kimberly Uyehara, Shannon Smith & André Raine.  Planning for Kauai’s first predator proof fence at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge [Newell’s Shearwater Puffinus newelli]

Stephani Zador (Seabird Program, NOAA Alaska Fishery Sciences Center) presented the opening plenary address to PSG41 entitled “Ecosystem-based management in Alaska: the role of seabirds as indicators of ecosystem change” (click here to view her presentation)

With thanks to Kim Rivera for information.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 19 April 2014

A fishing company in Namibia adopts the use of bird-scaring lines to save albatrosses and petrels

The following text is quoted from The Namibian of 13 March 2014 (click here).

“Every year in Namibia some 20 000 seabirds are accidentally killed when coming into contact with the trawlers and longliners.

The Albatross Task Force (ATF) based in Walvis Bay funded by Birdlife International and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), implemented in partnership with the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) and Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) [aims] to reduce the incidental mortality of seabirds off the Namibian coast.

The ATF was invited to Lüderitz from 18 to 21 February by Novanam Pescanova to do training on mortality mitigation techniques for fishing vessels.  The mortality mitigation techniques involve the use of paired tori lines or bird scaring lines which are placed on the stern of each trawler.  The tori lines prevent seabirds, particularly albatross from flying into the warp cables and net of trawlers.  The use of tori lines and proper offal and discard management (no discarding during hauling) helps to reduce the seabird mortality by more than 80%.  The tori lines are a very effective solution for saving seabirds as well as for more efficient fishing practices with less bycatch.

A southern African trawler tows twin bird-scaring lines

Painting by Bruce Pearson

Novanam Pescanova is the first fishing company in Namibia to implement these simple but effective mitigation techniques to help reduce the incidental bycatch of seabirds in the fishing industry.  During the training a comprehensive presentation about the threatened species of albatross and how to use tori lines was given to four groups of fishermen from hake trawlers. In total 34 people were trained.  Each trawler requires three tori lines (two in use, one as spare) and each longliner requires two tori lines (one in use, one as spare). Once there was an understanding of the dangers albatross and other seabirds face the ATF visited each fishing vessel to demonstrate how to deploy the tori lines.  It is very important that Namibian fishing companies use these tori lines as Namibia has the deadliest seas in the world with regards to seabird mortality.  The ATF is ready to work with all fishing companies in Walvis Bay and Lüderitz on how to use these mitigation techniques both on trawlers and longliners.

Jose Santome, a captain from one of the trawlers mentioned, “We do not know what a tori line is. We saw them on the boat but we don’t know what they are used for.” “I now understand what tori lines are and how to use them”.”

Click here for a similar news item of 12 March 2014 from The Namib Times.

Namibia drafted a National Plan of Action for Reducing the Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries (NPOA-Seabirds) following Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) guidelines (IPOA-Seabirds) over the period 2003-2007 but it has, as yet, not been formally adopted.

View adopted NPOA-Seabirds on the FAO website here and see ACAP's NPOA-Seabirds list here.

With thanks to Robert Vagg for information

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 18 April 2014

Where do juvenile Wandering Albatrosses go once they have fledged? a satellite-tracking study

Susanne Åkesson (Department of Biology, Lund University, Sweden) and Henri Weimerskirch have looked at the movements of fledging Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans in their first year at sea in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“The highly mobile wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) are adapted to navigate the extreme environment of the Southern Ocean and return to isolated islands to breed.  Each year they cover several hundreds of thousands of kilometers during travels across the sea.  Little is known about the dispersal flights and migration of young albatrosses.  We tracked, by satellite telemetry, the departure dispersal of 13 juvenile wandering albatrosses from the Crozet Islands and compared them with tracks of 7 unrelated adults during the interbreeding season.  We used the satellite tracks to identify different behavioural steps of the inherited migration program used by juvenile wandering albatrosses during their first solo-migration.  Our results show that the juvenile wandering albatrosses from Crozet Islands moved to sex-specific foraging zones of the ocean using at departures selectively the wind.  The results suggest that the inherited migration program used by the juvenile wandering albatrosses encode several distinct steps, based on inherited preferred departure routes, differences in migration distance between sexes, and selective use of winds.  During long transportation flights the albatrosses were influenced by winds and both adult and juveniles followed approximate loxodrome (rhumbline) routes coinciding with the foraging zone and the specific latitudes of their destination areas.  During the long segments of transportation flights across open seas the juveniles selected routes at more northerly latitudes than adults.”

A banded juvenile Wandering Albatross at sea one month off Australia after fledging from Marion Island

Photograph courtesy of Marg Larner

With thanks to Marco Barbieri for information.


Åkesson, S. & Weimerskirch, H. 2014.  Evidence for sex-segregated ocean distributions of first-winter Wandering Albatrosses at Crozet Islands.  PLoS ONE 9.  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086779.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 17 April 2014

Krill-eating albatrosses and petrels sniff out their food and help the ocean at the same time: the role of dimethyl sulphide

Matthew Savoca (Graduate Group in Ecology, University of California, Davis, California, USA) and Gabrielle Nevitt write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on a mutualistic interaction between procellariiform seabird species using dimethyl sulfide as a foraging cue and primary producers.

“This study demonstrates that dimethyl sulfide, a chemical cue involved in global climate regulation, mediates a tritrophic mutualistic interaction between marine apex predators and primary producers.  Our results imply that marine top predators play a critical role in maintaining both ocean health and global climate.  Our results highlight the need for more collaboration and discussion between micro- and macroscale biologists working on global issues in the Southern Ocean.”

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Tritrophic mutualistic interactions have been best studied in plant–insect systems.  During these interactions, plants release volatiles in response to herbivore damage, which, in turn, facilitates predation on primary consumers or benefits the primary producer by providing nutrients.  Here we explore a similar interaction in the Southern Ocean food web, where soluble iron limits primary productivity.  Dimethyl sulfide has been studied in the context of global climate regulation and is an established foraging cue for marine top predators.  We present evidence that procellariiform seabird species that use dimethyl sulfide as a foraging cue selectively forage on phytoplankton grazers.  Their contribution of beneficial iron recycled to marine phytoplankton via excretion suggests a chemically mediated link between marine top predators and oceanic primary production.”

Black-browed Albatrosses on Saunders Island, photograph by Anton Wolfaardt

Click here for a popular account of the publication in Science Daily.


Savoca, M.S. & Nevitt, G.A. 2014.  Evidence that dimethyl sulfide facilitates a tritrophic mutualism between marine primary producers and top predators.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111: 4157–4161.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 16 April 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

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