Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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Northern royal albatross

Diomedea sanfordi Murphy, 1917

Albatros royal du Nord
Albatros real del norte

Updated on 19-Jul-2009
Critically Endangered Endangered Vulnerable Near Threatened Least Concern Not Listed
Sometimes referred to as
Conservation Listings and Plans
Breeding Biology
Breeding States
Breeding Sites
Conservation Listings and Plans for the Breeding Sites
Population Trends
Breeding Sites: Threats
Foraging Ecology and Diet
Marine Distribution
Marine Threats
Key Gaps in Species Assessment
Compiled by
Recommended Citation

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SpeciesD. sanfordi

This monotypic species was originally described in 1917 by Murphy, but was subsequently considered to be a subspecies of the long-established D. epomophora, the Southern Royal Albatross.   In 1998, Robertson and Nunn [1 ] restored D. sanfordi to specific status based on several key morphological differences between the two taxa.  Although Penhallurick and Wink (2004) [2 ] argued that this split was not warranted based on the available molecular data, and although hybridisation between the two taxa can occur, D. sanfordi is treated as a species by ACAP [3 ], BirdLife International [4 ], and several recent field guides of southern ocean seabirds [5, 6, 7 ].

Conservation Listings and Plans

♦ Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels – Annex 1 [
3 ]
♦ 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – Endangered (since 2000) [8 ]
♦ Convention on Migratory Species - Listed Species (Appendix II; as D. epomophora) [9 ]

♦ Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC ACT) [10 ]
− Endangered (as D. epomophora sanfordi)
− Listed Migratory Species
− Listed Marine Species
♦ Recovery Plan for Albatrosses and Petrels (2001) [11 ]
♦ Threat abatement plan for the incidental catch (or bycatch) of seabirds during oceanic longline fishing operations (2006) [12 ]
South Australia: National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 – Endangered (as D. epomophora sanfordi) [13 ]
Western Australia: Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 - Wildlife Conservation (Specially Protected Fauna) Notice 2008 (2) – Fauna that is rare or is likely to become extinct [14 ]

♦ National Species List of Brazilian Fauna Threatened with Extinction (Lista Nacional das Espécies da Fauna Brasileira Ameaçadas de Extinção) – Endangered [15 ]
♦ National Plan of Action for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (NPOA-Seabirds Brazil) 2006 [16 ]

New Zealand
♦ Wildlife Act 1953 [17 ]
♦ New Zealand Threat Classification System List 2008 – Naturally Uncommon (as D. epomophora sanfordi ) [18 ]
♦ Recovery plan for albatrosses in the Chatham Islands 2001-2011 [19 ]

South Africa
♦ Sea Birds and Seals Protection Act, 1973 (Act No. 46 of 1973) (SBSPA) [20 ]
♦ Marine Living Resources Act (Act No. 18 of 1996): Publication of Policy on the Management of Seals, Seabirds and Shorebirds: 2007 [21 ]
♦ National Plan of Action (NPOA) for Reducing the Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries 2008 [22 ]


Breeding Biology

Diomedea sanfordi is a colonial, biennial-breeding species if successful in rearing a chick. Breeding birds return to colonies from late August to mid November.  Non-breeding birds can be present from September to late May (L. Perriman pers. comm. 2009).  Eggs are laid between 26 October and 1 December (mean date 11 November at Taiaroa Head, n=720 eggs 1938-2008), hatching mostly in late January and early February (mean incubation 78.8 ± 1.5 days) and chicks fledge in September/October after about 240 (± 9) days [23 ] (Table 1).  Juvenile birds start returning to colonies when three years old, but the mean is four years of age [24 ].   Age at first breeding is usually eight years (average for females 8.5, n=86, 8.6 for males, n=84, L. Perriman pers. comm. 2009), but can be as early as six years of age [24 ].


Table 1. Breeding cycle of D. sanfordi.


At colonies
Egg laying
Chick provisioning



Breeding Sites

Diomedea sanfordi is a New Zealand endemic (Table 2), breeding only in the Chatham Islands to the east of New Zealand (>99% of the population, of which 60% breed at the Forty Fours) and at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula on New Zealand’s South Island (Figure 1; Table 3). The total breeding population was estimated to be approximately 6,500 - 7,000 pairs in 1995, with 5,200 pairs breeding annually, equivalent to a total mature population of about 17,000 individuals [25, 26 ].  A total of 50 pairs bred at Taiaroa Head in 2006-2008 (three seasons), including eight individuals which are hybrid progeny of D. epomophora x D. sanfordi (L. Perriman pers. comm. 2009).  Two D. sanfordi were also recorded breeding with D. epomophora at Enderby Island in the Auckland group from 1993-1995 [26 ].


Table 3. Estimates of the population size (annual breeding pairs) for the main D. sanfordi breeding sites.


Breeding site location


Years monitored

Monitoring method

Monitoring accuracy

Annual breeding pairs

 (last census)

Taiaroa Head

New Zealand




32 (2009) [27 ]

Chatham Islands

44° 23’S, 176° 17’W

Forty Fours

Big Sister

Little Sister

New Zealand

1973-1976, 1989-1996, 2003














5,800 (2003) [28 ]








Breeding site name Jurisdiction Latitude Longitude Size of breeding site (hectares)
Enderby Island, Enderby Island New Zealand 50° 30' S 166° 18' E 70,000
Taiaroa Head, South Island New Zealand 45° 46' S 170° 43' E
The Big Sister, The Big Sister New Zealand 43° 34' S 176° 49' W 8
The Forty-fours, The Forty-fours New Zealand 43° 58' S 175° 45' E
The Little (Middle) Sister, The Little (Middle) Sister New Zealand 43° 34' S 176° 49' W 7

Location: Tristan da Cunha
Date: 2003
Photographer: John Cooper ( Contact details )

Location: Tristan da Cunha
Date: 2003
Photographer: John Cooper ( Contact details )

Conservation Listings and Plans for the Breeding Sites

Enderby Island
♦ UNESCO World Heritage List (inscribed 1998) [
29 ]

New Zealand
Taiaroa Head, Enderby Island
♦ Nature Reserve – Reserves Act 1977
[30 ]

Forty Fours, Big Sister, Little Sister (Privately Owned)
♦ Chatham Islands Conservation Management Strategy
[31 ]

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

Known ACAP Range StatesNew ZealandAustralia
South Africa

Non ACAP Range StatesDisputed

Regional Fisheries Management OrganisationsWCPFC

CCSBT - Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna
IOTC - Indian Ocean Tuna Commission
IATTC - Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission
ICCAT - International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas
SPRFMO - South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation
SEAFO - South-East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation
SIOFA - Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement
WCPFC - Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission