Today we're celebrating World Albatross Day (19 June) by sharing information about Tristan da Cunha’s amazing albatrosses.

There are 22 species of albatross in the world. Three albatross species breed almost exclusively in Tristan da Cunha and nowhere else in the world! The Tristan albatross (Diomedea dabbenena), which is the largest out of the three, the Atlantic Yellow-Nosed (Thalassarche chlororhynchos) and the Sooty (Phoebetria fusca) which much smaller and similar in size.

A few things our albatross have in common:

  • Large wingspans enable them to glide above the ocean for hours, with many not returning to land for a year or more
  • Courtship begins with an elaborate dance and partners mostly mate for life
  • They can find their food of fish and squid using smell!
  • They are Endangered and face threats from accidental capture in longline fishing and from being attacked by invasive island predators

Tristan Albatross

Known as the Gony it’s a huge bird with a white head, neck, black wings and on tail, and a large pink bill, females show more black and grey features than the male and juveniles are chocolate brown with white underwings.

It is one of the six ‘Great Albatrosses’ in the genus Diomedea. It’s the third largest seabird in the world with an impressive wingspan up to 3.5 metres and breeds only within the Tristan archipelago with its whole population on Gough and an occasional pair on Inaccessible.

Tristan albatrosses are Critically Endangered, with their population rapidly declining (IUCN 2018) due to predation from introduced house mice on Gough which attacks the chicks while on the nest.

Atlantic Yellow-Nosed Albatross

Locally called the Molly it has a distinctive look, a slightly greyish head, with an orange-yellow stripe on the upper black bill, black on the wings across the back, and a white upper body.

It is one of 11 species in the ‘Mollyhawk’ family, although large it is smaller than the Tristan Albatross.

They disperse across the Atlantic to feed but only breed in the Tristan archipelago. They’re the seen most frequently by islanders and tourists of all the albatross species because they nest on Tristan at the top of ‘The Base’ and near ‘The Ponds’ on Nightingale Island.

Yellow nosed albatrosses are Endangered, and their biggest threat is being accidently caught by longline fisheries during their migration or feeding pattern.

Sooty Albatross

Referred to as the Peeoo, they have a sooty-brown plumage, with a distinctive white semi-circle above its eye and a long tail. They have a yellow-coloured groove along their lower bill.

They breed on all the islands within the Tristan group and in the Indian Ocean. Little is known about them due to their remote nesting location on steep rugged cliff ledges where making an population estimate is very difficult.

Sooty albatross is known to be the deepest diving albatross diving from 5 – 12 metres into the water.

Sooty albatross is Endangered due accidental capture from longline fisheries and being struck by trawl cables while out scourging for food.

Tracking Albatross

Tracking the foraging journeys of Atlantic Yellow-nosed, Sooty and Tristan Albatross has revealed the huge distances they travel to feed. The Atlantic Yellow-nosed can travel as far as Argentina (2088 miles) and South Africa (1750 miles) to feed!

Thank you to Ben Dilley and Peter Ryan, Birdlife International Seabird Tracking Database and the RSPB for permission to use the maps showing the Albatross tracks.

Posted in: 

Juvenile Tristan Albatross © Ben Dilley
Juvenile Tristan Albatross © Ben Dilley
Atlantic Yellow-Nosed Albatross © Ben Dilley
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross © Ben Dilley
Sooty Albatross © Trevor Glass
Sooty Albatross © Trevor Glass

Related News