The largest of the north Pacific albatross, this bird once ranged from Japan and China on the western end of the Pacific Ocean to the west coast of North America.
During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the albatross was widely hunted for its plumage which was used to decorate women’s hats. It is estimated that up to five million of the birds were killed on the islands around Japan just for this purpose. Although the hunts were banned once the bird’s numbers became critically small, other naturally-occurring events also endangered its survival. Volcanic eruptions, severe storms and competition with other birds continued the depletion of the bird’s numbers until fewer than fifty were left by the 1940s.
By the mid-1980s, this number had only grown to about 250. Today, there are about 700 birds living on Tori-shima Island south of Japan, their largest breeding area. Although protected by American, Japanese and international laws, the island on which the birds nest is an active volcano which could destroy the entire species if it erupts.
The bird can be identified by its large size and narrow wings. It has a bright pink bill, an unusual feature of an albatross. Adults are almost entirely white with a light gold head and neck and wings tipped in black.
The Short-Tailed Albatross is a pelagic bird, meaning it spends most of its life at sea. Historically, the birds could be routinely spotted along the West Coast of North America from California to Alaska. Today, sightings of this bird in Oregon and other coastal areas are extremely rare.
Endangered wherever found.
Photos: Courtesy of the United States Fish & Wildlife Service.