Campbell albatross (Thalassarche impavida)

GenusThalassarche (1)
SizeLength: 88 cm (2)
Male weight: 2,750 - 3,800 g (2)
Female weight: 2,200 - 3,150 g (2)

The Campbell albatross is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Campbell albatross (Thalassarche impavida) is a medium-sized black and white albatross which breeds only on Campbell Island in New Zealand. The head, neck, underparts and rump of the adult Campbell albatross are white, while the wings, back and tail are black. The underwing is white with a thick black border. The Campbell albatross has a yellow bill ending in an orange tip, and its legs are blue-grey. The eye is a pale yellow straw colour and has a black triangle marking surrounding it, which gives the appearance of a black brow (2).

The juvenile Campbell albatross is similar in appearance to the adult, but has more black on the underwing, a grey-brown band around the chest, and a grey bill which ends in an almost black tip (2).

The Campbell albatross is distinguished from the similar, closely-related black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys) by its pale, straw-coloured rather than dark eye. The black-browed albatross also has a less extensive ‘eyebrow’ marking and less black on the underwing (2).

As its common name suggests, the Campbell albatross breeds only on the northern and western coast of Campbell Island, New Zealand. However, its non-breeding range is more extensive, reaching from southern Australian waters to the Tasman Sea and the southern Pacific Ocean (3).

While most of its time is spent at sea (4), the Campbell albatross returns to land to breed, nesting on ledges and steep slopes which are covered with short grasses, tussocks and mud (2). 

Albatrosses are some of the most far-roaming seabirds in the world (5) and the Campbell albatross in particular has been known to make single, non-stop flights of up to 19 hours without landing (4). During the day, the Campbell albatross spends most of its time in flight, but it will spend the night sitting on the water (4).

Typical foraging trips in this species last between 3 and 12 days (4), and individuals may travel up to 2,000 kilometres away from the colony in search of food (6). The Campbell albatross feeds mainly on fish, particularly southern blue whiting (Micromesistius australis), which forms the bulk of the diet during the chick-rearing period. It also takes cephalopods, crustaceans, jellyfish and carrion (7). The Campbell albatross generally feeds by seizing prey at the surface and possibly by shallow diving, as well as by following fishing vessels (2) (3). Like other albatrosses, the Campbell albatross is known as a ‘tube-nose’ due to its large external nostrils, which provide this it with a very good sense of smell, used for foraging (5).

The Campbell albatross is a long-lived and slow-growing species (5) which does not usually breed until it is ten years old (3), and only returns to land for the first time when it is five years old (2). This species breeds in large colonies on Campbell Island. The female Campbell albatross lays a single egg each year, in late September to early October, and the egg hatches in early December (3). Both the male and female Campbell albatross care for the chick (2), which fledges from mid-April to early May (3).

In defence against predators, an albatross will eject a strong-smelling stomach oil which can travel over one metre in the direction of the predator (5).

While the most recent surveys suggest that there is a breeding population of 24,600 pairs of Campbell albatrosses on Campbell Island, this species only breeds at this single, small site, and so is highly susceptible to human impacts that might disturb or destroy its nesting area. Predation by introduced rats and cats was a major threat until these species were eradicated from Campbell Island in 2001 (3). Feral sheep may also have damaged the Campbell albatross’ habitat (3).

Foraging Campbell albatrosses are attracted to discarded fish from fishing boats, and large numbers are often drowned in New Zealand fisheries through being caught in trawl nets and on long lines (3).  This resulted in a population decline which coincided with the development of a large-scale fishery that peaked in New Zealand waters during 1971 to 1983. Fortunately, the Campbell albatross population is now gradually increasing, which may be due to a substantial decline in the fishing effort since 1984 (3).As the southern blue whiting (Micromesistius australis) makes up a large part of the Campbell albatross’ diet, any overfishing of this species could potentially have a damaging effect on the survival of these birds (7).

Total eradication of feral sheep from Campbell Island in 1991 and of rats and cats in 2001 was carried out to protect the Campbell albatross and its habitat. In 1998, the island was declared a national nature reserve and part of a World Heritage Site to ensure the survival of the many sea birds that nest there (3) (8).

Research into the population dynamics, colony distribution, biology and diet of the Campbell albatross is being carried out to enable conservationists to decide on appropriate ways of protecting this species (3).

Further development of mitigation devices and techniques also needs to be carried out to minimise the bycatch of albatrosses in trawl fisheries and longline fisheries (3).

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  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2011)
  2. Brooke, M. (2004) Albatrosses and Petrels across the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. BirdLife International (August, 2011)
  4. Weimerskirch, H. and Guionnet, T. (2002) Comparative activity pattern during foraging of four albatross species. Ibis, 144: 40-50.
  5. BirdLife International (2011) Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds. Dorling Kindersley Limited, London.
  6. Waugh, S.M., Weimerskirch, H., Cherel,Y. and Prince, P.A. (2000) Contrasting strategies of provisioning and chick growth in two sympatrically breeding albatrosses at Campbell Island, New Zealand. The Condor, 102: 804-813.
  7. Cherel, Y., Waugh, S. and Hanchet, S. (1999) Albatross predation of juvenile southern blue whiting (Micromesistius australis) on the Campbell Plateau. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 33: 437-441.
  8. UNEP-WCMC: Sub-Antarctic Islands, New Zealand (August, 2011)