Albatross Tracking

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We established a research and educational partnership to study the movements and fishery overlap of Black-footed Albatross breeding on Kure Atoll (NWHI), involving five partners:

Oikonos - Kure Atoll Conservancy - DOFAW - USGS - HPU Pelagicos Lab

The Black-footed Albatross (Ka'upu, Phoebastria nigripes), breeds throughout the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, from Kure Atoll in the NW to Kaula in the SE. During the breeding season, albatross parents range widely in search of food for their chicks. During these foraging trips, they face the risk of incidental mortality in pelagic longline fisheries.

Because Black-footed Albatross range widely across the North Pacific, they are susceptible to broadly distributed longline fisheries operating in national waters and the high-seas, outside of national jurisdictions. Thus, international collaboration is critical for mapping those areas and times, when these far-ranging seabirds are susceptible to bycatch, and for identifying those range nations and international fishery management organizations responsible for their conservation.

To enhance international conservation efforts for Black-footed Albatross, we studied their at-sea distribution and longline fishery risk by tracking adults breeding on Kure Atoll, during the chick rearing period (February - May) of two years (2012 and 2013). These results highlight the importance of the Western and the Central Pacific for Black-footed Albatross, and the shared international responsibilities for their conservation.

North Pacific basin, showing 197 foraging trips by 18 BFAL tagged at Kure Atoll (star) during the chick-rearing period (February - May) of 2012 and 2013. The tracks are superimposed on the extent of Regional Fisheries Management areas, national jurisdictions, and U.S. Marine National Monuments.



Tracking: We studied the foraging distribution and longline fishery overlap to Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) breeding on Kure Atoll (NW Hawaiian Islands) by tracking provisioning trips during 2012 and 2013 (18 birds, 197 trips, 1003 days tracked).

We attached GPS tags to BFAL parents of known sex and age (9 - 13 yrs) during the chick rearing period (February - May).

We calculated the percent time individual birds spent at-sea in Economic Exclusive Zones, existing and proposed National Marine Monuments, and RFMOs.

We obtained public pelagic longline fishing effort data during the same chick-rearing period (February - May) for ten years (2003-12) from WCPFC records.


Tagging Effects: To test for potential tagging effects on chick development and survivorship, we repeatedly measured the mass and size 20 of experimental chicks (one parent tagged) and 20 control chicks (untagged parents) weekly between February and May.

A Black-footed Albatross parent equipped with a GPS transmitter taped to its back feathers, next to its chick, marked with red tape for identification in the field.

(Photo Courtesy State of Hawaii DLNR - DOFAW)


Field biologists measuring the mass of Black-footed Albatross chicks on Kure Atoll.

(Photo Courtesy State of Hawaii DLNR - DOFAW)


The Black-footed Albatross tracked from Kure Atoll:

• Had equal parental success (chick development and survival) when reproduction of non-tagged parents were compared with tagged parents

• Ranged farther in 2013; males ranged farther north than females

• Varied in their at-sea distribution; however, differences between years and between sexes did not significantly influence their time in management areas or fishery grids

• Ventured outside national jurisdictions with 70% of their time in the high seas, and the remaining time in the national E.E.Z.s around Hawaii and Japan

• Spent 9% of their time in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and with the proposed expansion this increased to 25% of their time

Percent of time the tracked Black-footed Albatross (n=18 breeding adults) spent in the international high seas and territorial waters of U.S., Japan and Candada (200-mile E.E.Z.s). The mean ± S.D (range) within each region is shown.

• BFAL overlapped extensively (98%) with the longline fisheries (5x5 hook data from the WCPFM area member countries); however, their time was not related to the magnitude of fishing effort

Pelagic longline fishing effort and Black-footed Albatross time in the overlap study area, presented as quantile percentages within 5x5 degree grids.

A) Longline fishing effort (sum hooks) during chick-rearing period (Feb - May) of ten years (2003 - 2012) from WCPFC public records of member countries. WCPFC merges longline effort (hooks deployed) for all target species into monthly 5x5 degree grids.

B) Black-footed Albatross relative use (percent of total tracked time) within 5x5 degree grids (n = 18 birds) combined for 2012 and 2013.


During the chick-rearing season Black-footed Albatross commute long distances from their breeding colonies in Hawai‘i to forage in productive continental shelf and slope waters of the California Current System (Hyrenbach et al., 2002, 2006; Kappes et al. 2015).

Yet, because previous tracking data originated from a single colony (French Frigate Shoals, Tern Island), little is known about the at-sea distributions of albatross from the colonies further west, including Kure Atoll.

These results highlight the importance of the western and central north Pacific for Black-footed Albatross breeding on Kure Atoll, and the shared international responsibilities for their conservation.


Collaborators on this project included State of Hawai‘i, Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, U.S. Geological Survey - Western Ecological Research Center, and Hawai‘i Pacific University. Funding was provided by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Mohamed bin Zaed Species Conservation Fund. Substatial inkind support was provided by the State of Hawai‘i DLNR-DOFAW, Kure Atoll Conservancy, and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM). We thank the NOAA vessel RV Oscar Sette personnel and all field biolgists on Kure: Julia Parish, Hawane Rios, Liat Porter, Eryn Opie, Matthew Crimi, Ilana Nimz, Joshua Willman, Dakshina Marlier, Parker Shebs, Zackaray Bigelow, Wayne Haight, Hoku, Nicole Cody, Erin Pickett. Authority for tagging and banding was provided by USGS Bird Banding Laboratory Auxiliary Marking Authority 23317. Authorization to conduct this research on the Kure Atoll Seabird Sanctuary was provided by the land owners, State of Hawai‘i, and Management Co-Trustee Permit PMNM-2008-001.



Please do not cite without the written consent from the authors.

This information, preliminary and subject to revision, is being provided to meet the need for timely best science on the condition that neither the U.S. Geological Survey nor the U.S. Government may be held liable for any damages resulting from authorized or unauthorized use. The views and conclusions herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government.


Summary Report - In Progress

IAPC Conference Abstract - In Progress

Manuscript - In Progress


Pelagicos Contact

David Hyrenbach



Cynthia Vanderlip, Matthew Saunter, Naomi Worcester


Josh Adams, Robert Henry




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