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Amsterdam albatross

Diomedea amsterdamensis Roux et al. 1983

Albatros d’Amsterdam
Albatros de la Amsterdam

Updated on 25-Aug-2009
Critically Endangered Endangered Vulnerable Near Threatened Least Concern Not Listed
Sometimes referred to as

Any signifies a link showing the relevant reference.


SpeciesD. amsterdamensis

Originally considered to be a Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans; Linnaeus, 1758), D. amsterdamensis was elevated to specific status following review by Roux and colleagues [1 ]. Their justification was largely based on patterns of plumage maturation, morphology and breeding biology and has been widely accepted [2, 3, 4, 5 ], although others suggest subspecific status a more appropriate classification given the low level of genetic divergence [6 ]. However, an extensive comparison of the exulans complex using more recent data shows that the Amsterdam Albatross is quite different from the other groups, exulans, dabbenena, and antipodensis (Burg, Rains, Milot and Weimerskirch, unpublished). The ACAP Taxonomy Working Group has yet to review the available taxonomic data for D. amsterdamensis.


Conservation Listings and Plans

• Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels – Annex 1 [
7 ]
• 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – Critically Endangered [8 ]
• Convention on Migratory Species - Listed Species (Appendix 1) [9 ]

• Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 [10 ]
      - Endangered
      - Listed Marine Species
      - Listed Migratory Species
• Recovery Plan for Albatrosses and Giant-Petrels 2001-2005 [11 ]
• Threat Abatement Plan 2006 for the incidental catch (or by-catch) of seabirds during oceanic longline fishing operations  [12 ]

        Western Australia: Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 - Wildlife Conservation (Specially Protected Fauna)  Notice   2008 (2) – Fauna that is rare or is likely to become extinct [13 ]

•  Ministerial Order of 14 August 1998 (Arrêté du 14 août 1998) [14 ]
       - Listed Protected Species


Breeding Biology

Diomedea amsterdamensis breeds biennially. Most eggs are laid in late February-March, hatch in May and the chicks fledge in January-February after spending 235 days in the nest (Table 1). Immature birds begin to return to the island between 4-7 years after fledging but do not begin breeding until they are nine years of age [15 ].

 Table 1. Breeding cycle of D. amsterdamensis.

At colonies
Egg laying
Chick provisioning

Breeding States

 Table 2. Distribution of the global D. amsterdamensis population among Parties to the Agreement that have jurisdiction over the breeding sites of ACAP listed species.  

New Zealand
South Africa
United Kingdom
Breeding pairs


Breeding Sites

Breeding Diomedea amsterdamensis are endemic to the French Southern Territories (Table 2), nesting only on the Plateau des Tourbières on Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean (Figure 1, Table 3). For the last 4 years, the breeding population has reached 24 to 26 pairs annually (H. Weimerskirch pers. comm.), up from five pairs in the 1980s [15 ]. The total population is estimated to be approximately 140-150 birds (90 adults) (H. Weimerskirch pers. comm.).  


Figure 1. The location of the single breeding site and approximate range of D. amsterdamensis. The boundaries of selected Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) are also shown. 


CCAMLR – Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources
CCSBT - Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna
IATTC - Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission
ICCAT - International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas
IOTC - Indian Ocean Tuna Commission
WCPFC - Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission 


Table 3. Monitoring methods and estimates of the population size (annual breeding pairs) for the single breeding site. Table based on unpublished CNRS Chizé data submitted to ACAP in 2007.

Breeding site location
Years monitored
Monitoring method
Monitoring accuracy
Annual breeding pairs (last census)
Amsterdam Island
37° 48’S, 77° 32’E
26 (2007)



Breeding site name Jurisdiction Latitude Longitude Size of breeding site (hectares)
Plateau des tourbieres, Amsterdam France 37° 50' S 77° 33' E 80,000

Conservation Listings and Plans for the Breeding Sites

• None

• National Nature Reserve (Décret no 2006-1211) [
16 ]
• Specially Protected Area

    French Southern Territories (Terres australes et antarctiques françaises, TAAF)
• Area Restricted to scientific and technical research (Arrêté 14 du 30 juillet 1985) [17 ]

Population Trends

The single population of D. amsterdamensis has been monitored continuously since 1983. Annual counts of eggs laid have increased from a low of five in 1984 to a high of 32 in 2001 (Figure 2) [18 ].  This peak was due to poor breeding success in the previous year.  Since 2004, the number of breeding pairs has remained at 24-26 per year.  Inchausti and Weimerskirch (2001) suggest the D. amsterdamensis population could have been reduced by longline fishing activity that was operating around Amsterdam Island between the mid 1960s and mid 1980s and the observed recovery corresponds to a shift in fishing activity away from the island in the late 1980s and 1990s [19 ].


Trend analyses indicate that the Amsterdam Island population is increasing at a rate of  6.7% per year (p < 0.01) [20 ] (Table 4).




Table 4. Summary of population trend data for D. amsterdamensis based on counts of eggs laid extracted from Weimerskirch (2004) [18 ].

Breeding site
Current Monitoring
Trend Years
% average change per year (95% Confidence Interval) [20 ]
% of population for which trend is calculated
Amsterdam Island
1983 – 2003
6.7 (4.5, 8.9)





Breeding success and adult survival data have been collected continuously since 1983. On average, adult survival is over 95%, as expected for these long-lived birds, and the reported breeding success of over 70% is similar to values reported for other Diomedea species (Table 5) [15 ].  Juvenile survival of over 70% is very high compared to other albatross species and this in part may explain the gradual growth of this population over the 1980s and 1990s [15 ]. A cause for concern however is a recent decline in breeding success in D. amsterdamensis that was paralleled with the continuous decrease since 1992 of the Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross population (Thalassarche carteri) on Amsterdam Island [18 ]. The decrease of breeding success in T. carteri has led to a rapid decrease in population size in some colonies where avian cholera killed mainly chicks, but also adults. The death of 66% of D. amsterdamensis chicks in 2000 and 74% in 2001 has not yet been attributed to an outbreak of avian cholera in this species [18 ].
Table 5. Demographic data for the single D. amsterdamensis breeding site. Table based on data from Weimerskirch et al (1997) [15 ].

Breeding site
Mean breeding success (study period)
Mean juvenile survival
Mean adult survival 
(±SE, study period)
Amsterdam Island
71.6% (1983 -1994)
95.7% (±1.8%, 1983-1993)





Figure 2. Counts of the number of eggs laid each year with a simple regression line fitted, from Weimerskirch (2004) [18]. See text for assessment of population trends.

Breeding Sites: Threats

The extremely low population size and restricted breeding area of this species, limited to one breeding site, combine to significantly increase the threat to its survival (Table 6). 


Table 6. Summary of known threats at the single breeding site of D. amsterdamensis. This Table is based on unpublished data submitted to the ACAP Breeding Sites Working Group in 2008.

Breeding site
Human disturbance
Human take
Natural disaster
Parasite or Pathogen
Habitat loss or degradation
Predation (alien species)
Amsterdam Island
No a
High? b
No a
High (cats)
Low (rats) c

b Avian cholera has recently been identified as the cause of a decline in the population of T. carteri on Amsterdam Island. If the occurrence of this disease is confirmed in D. amsterdamensis, the population would face a high risk of extinction within 20-30 years [18 ]. The source of the avian cholera may have been the poultry taken to the island to provide food for human inhabitants. The poultry has been removed in 2007. This situation highlights the risks of human activities and domestic animals being agents for catastrophic disease in the most remote areas of the world.
c Predation by introduced rats Rattus rattus and cats Felis catus remains a significant threat.

Foraging Ecology and Diet

The feeding behaviour and diet of D. amsterdamensis has not been studied [9 ].  Like other great albatrosses, they probably surface-seize squid, fish and crustacea [12 ].



Marine Distribution

An understanding of the marine distribution of D. amsterdamensis is confounded by its similar appearance to other albatross species such as the Wandering Albatross, D. exulans. Satellite tracking data forD. amsterdamensis have been collected from incubating adults which predominantly forage in waters within 1500 km of Amsterdam Island (Figure 3). Tracking of juvenile birds shows that they disperse through the Indian Ocean.  Non-breeding adults venture to the coasts of western Australia and eastern Africa, but always remain in pelagic waters. Unsubstantiated sightings also exist from New Zealand [24, 25 ].

The satellite tracking data indicate that D. amsterdamensisoverlap with four regional Fisheries Management Organisations, the IOTC, CCSBT, SWIOFC (South-West Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission) and SIOFA (Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement), the last two aimed at ensuring the long-term conservation and sustainable use of fishery resources other than tuna (Figure 1; Table 7). France is the main Range State for D. amsterdamensis.


Table 7. Summary of the known ACAP Range States and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations that overlap with the marine distribution of D. amsterdamensis.  See Figure 1 and text for list of acronyms.

Frequency of occurrence in region
Resident/ Breeding and feeding rangeForaging range onlyFew records - outside core foraging range

Known ACAP Range StatesFranceSouth Africa
New Zealand?

Regional Fisheries Management OrganisationsIOTC

CCSBT - Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna
IOTC - Indian Ocean Tuna Commission
SWIOFC - South-West Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission
SIOFA - Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement
WCPFC - Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission

Marine Threats

Due to the low population size, few records exist that quantify the threats this species faces at sea. Longline fishing activities around the island during the 1970s and 1980s may well have contributed to the population decline at that time [24 ]. The foraging range of D. amsterdamensis extends up to 4000 km from the breeding site, and overlaps with longline fishing operations targeting tropical tuna species [26, 27 ].



Key Gaps in Species Assessment

Urgent information on the disease status of the species is required as the diseases identified in adjacent albatross populations may also threaten D. amsterdamensis with extinction. Appropriate management and mitigation measures to control and limit spread of the disease should be implemented as a priority.


The distribution of these birds at sea is poorly known, so information on the distribution of birds of different age classes and at different stages of the annual cycle is also required to better assess overlap with fishing operations.  The monitoring of the population trends and demographic parameters of D. amsterdamensis should be continued in order to monitor rates of adult and juvenile survival.




[1] Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

[2] Birdlife International 2007. In: IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

[3] Bonn Convention (Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals).

[4] French Government. Arrêté du 14 août 1998 fixant sur tout le territoire national des mesures de protection des oiseaux représentés dans les Terres australes et antarctiques françaises. Le Journal officiel de la République française (JORF) n°236 du 11 octobre 1998 page 15405.

[5] Australian Government Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

[6] Department of Environment and Heritage (2001). Recovery Plan for Albatrosses and Giant-Petrels 2001-2005.

[7] Department of Environment and Heritage (2006). Threat Abatement Plan for the incidental catch (or bycatch) of seabirds during oceanic longline fishing operations

[8] Roux JP, Jouventin P, Mougin JL, Stahl JC and Weimerskirch H (1983). Un nouvelle albatros Diomedea amsterdamensis n. sp. decouvert sur I’Ile Amsterdam (37°, 50’S, 77°35’E). Oiseau Revue fr. Orn. 53:1-11.

[9] Tickell WLN (2000). Albatrosses. Pica Press: Sussex, UK.

[10] Robertson CJ and Nunn GB (1998). Towards a new taxonomy for albatrosses. In: Albatross biology and conservation (Ed. Robertson G and Gales R) pp. 13-19. Surrey Beatty & Sons: Chipping Norton.

[11] Marchant S and Higgins PJ (1990). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Oxford University Press: Melbourne.

[12] Brooke M (2004). Albatrosses and petrels across the world. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

[13] Penhallurick J and Wink M (2004). Analysis of the taxonomy and nomenclature of the Procellariiformes based on complete nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. Emu 104:125-147.

[14] Weimerskirch H, Brothers N and Jouventin P (1997). Population dynamics of wandering albatross Diomedea exulans and Amsterdam albatross D. amsterdamensis in the Indian Ocean and their relationships with long-line fisheries - conservation implications. Biological Conservation 79:257-270.

[15] Birdlife International (2004). Tracking Ocean Wanderers: the global distribution of albatrosses and petrels. Results from the Global Procellariiform Tracking Workshop, 1-5 September, 2003, Gordon’s Bay, South Africa. Birdlife International: Cambridge UK.

[16] French Government. Décret n°2006-1211 du 3 octobre 2006 portant création de la réserve naturelle des Terres australes françaises. Le Journal officiel de la République française (JORF) n°230 du 4 octobre 2006 page 14673.

[17] TAAF. Arrêté 14 du 30 juillet 1985 creant zones réservées à la recherche scientifique et technique.

[18] Weimerskirch H (2004). Diseases threaten Southern Ocean albatrosses. Polar Biology 27:374-379.

[19] Inchausti P and Weimerskirch H (2001). Risks of decline and extinction of the endangered Amsterdam albatross and the projected impact of long-line fisheries. Biological Conservation 100:377-386.

[20] Wilcox C (2006). Review of trends monitoring methods as applied to seabird populations (AC2 Doc 32). Second Meeting of the ACAP Advisory Committee (AC2).

[21] Pannekoek, J and van Strien, A. 2006. TRIM 3.53 (TRends & Indices for Monitoring data). Statistics Netherlands, Voorburg.

[22] Jouventin P, Martinez J and Roux JP (1989). Breeding biology and current status of the Amsterdam Island Albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis. Ibis 131:171-182.

[23] Micol T and Jouventin P (1995). Restoration of Amsterdam Island, South Indian Ocean, following control of feral cattle. Biological Conservation 73:199-206.

[24] Del Hoyo J, Elliot A and Sargatal J (Eds). (1992). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.

[25] Shirihai H (2002). A complete guide to Antarctic wildlife. Alula Press: Degerby.

[26] Birdlife International (2007). Species factsheet: Diomedea amsterdamensis

[27] Gales R (1998). Albatross populations: status and threats. In: Albatross Biology and Conservation (Ed. Robertson G and Gales R) pp. 20-45. Surrey Beatty & Sons: Chipping Norton.

Compiled by

Michael C. Double, Rosemary Gales,  Nadeena Beck, and Wieslawa Misiak.


Henri Weimerskirch
Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, France.

 ACAP Breeding Sites Working Group
Richard Phillips

 ACAP Status and Trends Working Group
Contact: Rosemary Gales

 ACAP Taxonomy Working Group
Contact: Michael Double

 Birdlife International,
Global Seabird Program:
Contact: Cleo Small

Maps - Frances Taylor
Data Contributors - Henri Weimerskirch, Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, (CNRS UPR 1934), France.
Support from Institut Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV – programme 109).

Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water
Contact: Rosemary Gales


Recommended Citation

Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. 2008. Species assessments: Amsterdam albatross. Downloaded from on