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Black-footed Albatross
Phoebastria nigripes
– Family
Authors: Whittow, G. Causey
Revisors: Awkerman, Jill A., and David J. Anderson

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Black-footed Albatross, adult; Midway Atoll, Pacific
Figure 1. Breeding and nonbreeding (marine) range of the Black-footed Albatross.

The Black-footed Albatross is the only uniformly dark-plumaged albatross of the North Pacific Ocean. It nests for the most part on remote beaches in the Hawaiian Archipelago during the northern winter and spring, and then wanders widely across North Pacific waters as far as Alaska, California, Taiwan, and the Bering Sea. This is the only albatross seen regularly off the Pacific coast of North America.

This albatross feeds mainly on squid and on the eggs of flying-fish, although it often follows ships and trawlers, picking up offal left in their wake. Like other tube-nosed birds, its olfactory lobes are well-developed, probably helping it to locate food in the vast reaches of oceanic waters. Along with its food, this species is known to ingest considerable amounts of floating plastic (a growing pelagic phenomenon).

Black-footed and Laysan albatrosses are sister taxa and share breeding sites and many behaviors, including features of their mating dance, and the two species hybridize occasionally. The Black-footed is the more aggressive of the two. Black-footeds are less abundant than Laysans, with a worldwide abundance estimated at about 278,000 individuals (including 58,000 breeding pairs), with an apparent decrease between 1992 and 2004. Fishing (drift) nets and longlines threaten both species; nearly 4,500 Black-footed Albatross were killed in nets in 1990 alone, but successful efforts to mitigate such loss have steadily reduced Black-footed by-catch since then.

Substantial ethological and physiological studies (Fisher 1948, 1972, Rice and Kenyon 1962a, 1962b, Whittow 1984a, 1984b) conducted on breeding islands of Black-footed Albatross have been augmented by at-sea observations (Shuntov 1974), and more recently by extensive satellite tracking, which has elucidated marine distribution and habitat of this species and other North Pacific albatrosses (Fernández et al. 2001, Hyrenbach et al. 2002, Shaffer et al. 2005). Identifying population-level effects of fishery bycatch and ingestion of contaminants and plastics has also motivated recent research.