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Laysan Albatross
Phoebastria immutabilis
– Family
Authors: Whittow, G. Causey
Revisors: Awkerman, Jill, and David Anderson

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Adult Laysan Albatross, Midway Atoll, Central Pacific
Figure 1. Breeding and nonbreeding (marine) range of the Laysan Albatross.

The Laysan Albatross is a large seabird but a relatively small albatross, distinguished from most other species of albatross by its Northern Hemisphere distribution and its sub-tropical breeding range. It breeds mainly on atolls in the Hawaiian Archipelago during the northern winter, and spends the non-breeding months of July-November in the North Pacific Ocean. Following the loss of hundreds of thousands of breeders early in the 20th century to feather hunters and military development, this species has recently colonized new breeding grounds in the main Hawaiian Islands, the Bonin Islands, and Guadalupe Island off the Mexican coast. Currently listed as Vulnerable by IUCN, this species is comprised of an estimated 590,000 breeding pairs as of 2005 (Naughton et al. 2007).

Like other albatrosses, the Laysan’s mating dance is elaborate and its method of flying (“dynamic soaring”) is spectacular. In the absence of wind, however, albatrosses have difficulty becoming airborne or landing. Although Laysans usually do not breed successfully until age 8-9 years, they are long-lived (individuals at least 55 years old have bred) and capable of breeding annually.

Laysan Albatrosses feed mainly on squid, but fish, fish-eggs, and crustaceans are also taken. These seabirds are known to possess high levels of rhodopsin, a visual pigment that enhances nocturnal vision and are known to be active at night when squid are plentiful in surface waters. However, daytime activity suggestive of foraging is common, and diurnal scavenging is another potential feeding strategy. At sea, Laysans are sometimes caught on fish hooks and in salmon and squid gillnets. Estimated loss to driftnets in 1990, just prior to closure of this fishery, was over 17,500 birds, nearly 1% of the total population.

Breeding behavior and physiology have been studied extensively (Rice & Kenyon 1962a, b, Whittow 1980a, b, 1984a, b). Recent technological advancements in satellite tracking contributed to improved understanding of pelagic habitat and movements outside of the breeding colony (Fernández et al. 2001, Hyrenbach et al. 2002, Shaffer et al. 2005) and breeding season (Fischer et al. 2009). Conservation concerns about effects of fishery interactions and plastic ingestion on the population also motivate current research.