Endangered Species Friday: Diomedea amsterdamensis
This Friday’s (ESP) Endangered Species watch Post I dedicate to one of the most stunning and adorable of all plane like birds. Listed as [critically endangered] and identified back in 1983 by South African Dr Jean Paul Roux whom is a Marine Biologist studying Zoology, Systems Biology and Marine Biology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa Jean Paul Roux works full-time at the Department of Biological Sciences, Cape Town. (Image D. amsterdamensis fledglings)
Commonly identified as the Amsterdam Albatross or Amsterdam Island Albatross the species was listed as [critically endangered] back in 2012. This gorgeous bird is endemic to the French Southern Territories of which its populations are continuing to decline at a rapid pace. Populations were estimated at a mere 170 individuals which in turn ranks as the worlds most endangered species of bird. Out of the 170 individuals there are a total of 80 mature individuals consisting of 26 pairs that breed annually.
Between 2001-2007 there were a total of 24-31 breeding pairs annually, which leaves a slightly lower population count today of around 100 mature individuals. Back in 1998 scientists stated that there were no fewer than 50 mature individuals if that. The Amsterdam Albatross doesn’t naturally have a small population however qualified for the category of [critically endangered] due to this reason when identified in 1983. Furthermore pollution, habitat destruction and disease remain pivotal factors that’s decreasing populations furthermore. The video below from MidWay island explains a little more about pollution and birds of this caliber.
Its quite possible that there could be more unidentified groups within the local territory or elsewhere, unfortunately as yet there is no evidence to suggest the Amsterdam Albatross is located anywhere else, however there have been sightings, which do not necessarily count as the species being endemic to countries the bird may have been noted within.
The species breeds on the Plateau des Tourbières on Amsterdam Island (French Southern Territories) in the southern Indian Ocean. An increase of populations was documented via census back in 1984, a year after identification. Marine Biologists have stated that population sizes may have been more larger when its range was more extensive over the slopes of the island.
Meanwhile in South Africa satellite tracking data has indicated the Amsterdam Albatross ranges off the coast of Eastern South Africa to the South of Western Australia in non-breeding pairs. There have been some [possible] sightings over Australia through to New Zealand too. Meanwhile South Africa “may” have its first breeding pair this must not be taken as factual though. Back in 2013 a nature photographer photographed an Amsterdam Albatross off the Western Cape of South Africa which is the very first documented and confirmed sighting .
AN OCEAN OF GRIEF
Breeding is biennial (when successful) and is restricted to the central plateau of the island at 500-600 m, where only one breeding group is known. Pair-bonds are lifelong, and breeding begins in February. Most eggs are laid from late February to March, and chicks fledge in January to February the following year.
Immature birds begin to return to breeding colonies between four and seven years after fledging but do not begin to breed until they are nine years of age. The Amsterdam Albatross exact diet is unknown, but probably consists of fish, squid and crustaceans. During the breeding season, birds forage both around Amsterdam Island and up to 2,200 km away in subtropical waters which is something of interest. During the great Sardine Run many aquatic species consisting of birds, seals, sharks and whales hit the South African oceans hard for sardines. So I am calling on my fellow South African friends to please be on the lookout for this rather elusive bird.
Read more here on the Avian Biology.
Image: Amsterdam Albatross mating ritual, credited to Andrew Rouse.
Diomedea amsterdamensis, is quite a large albatross. When described in 1983, the species was thought by some researchers to be a sub-species of the wandering albatross, D. exulans. Bird Life International and the IOC recognize it as a species, James Clements does not, and the SACC has a proposal on the table to split the species. Please refer to the link above on Avian Biology which will explain more on the bird and its current classification.
More recently, mitchondrial DNA comparisons between the Amsterdam albatross, the wandering albatross Diomedea exulans, the Antipodean albatross D. antipodensis and the Tristan albatross D. dabbenena, provide clear genetic evidence that the Amsterdam albatross is a separate species.
Degradation of breeding sites by introduced cattle has decreased the species’s range and population across the island. Human disturbance is presumably also to blame. Introduced predators are a major threat, particularly feral cats. Interactions with longline fisheries around the island in the 1970s and early 1980s could also have contributed to a decline in the population.
Today the population is threatened primarily by the potential spread of diseases (avian cholera and Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae) that affect the Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche carteri population 3 km from the colony. Infection risks are very high and increased chick mortality over recent years suggests the population is already affected.
The foraging range of the species overlaps with longline fishing operations targeting tropical tuna species, so bycatch may also still be a threat, and a recent analysis has suggested that bycatch levels exceeding six individuals per year would be enough to cause a potentially irreversible population decline. Having a distribution on relatively low-lying islands, this species is potentially susceptible to climate change through sea-level rise and shifts in suitable climatic conditions. Plastic pollution has also been noted as problematic.
International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa and International Animal Rescue Foundation France are currently working on projects to reduce more plastic within bird habitat that has never been visited by the organisation before. The current plight of bird habitat and plastic pollution within the Pacific ocean needs to be worked on by everyone, furthermore addressed immediately.
To date all twenty two species within the four genera of Albatross are heavily threatened with extinction. There remains no species at present that is listed as [least concern]. The future is indeed very bleak for all 22 species and something we now need to work on and towards to preserve Albatross’s before extinction occurs within a decade for the vast majority of all twenty two species and sub-species.
Thank you for reading.
Please share to make aware the plight of this stunning bird and the remaining twenty two species too.
Dr Jose C. Depre.
Botanical and Environmental Scientist.
A planet without birds is a world not worth living within anymore. Daily I am traumatized and deeply disturbed at viewing the destruction we have caused to these stunning animals and, their natural habitat. I am pained, deeply frustrated and infuriated at international retail companies whom preach good yet practice negligence killing off via plastic pollution our species of birds. Jose Depre