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Waved albatross

Phoebastria irrorata (Salvin, 1883)

Albatros des Galapagos
Albatros de las Galápagos/ Albatros Ondulado

Updated on 16-Aug-2008
Critically Endangered Endangered Vulnerable Near Threatened Least Concern Not Listed
Sometimes referred to as
Galapagos albatross

Any signifies a link showing the relevant reference.


SpeciesP. irrorata

Originally described as Diomedea irrorata (Salvin 1883), the species was transferred from Diomedea to Phoebastria along with three other species of North Pacific albatross by Nunn et al. (1996) [1 ].

Conservation Listings and Plans

• Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels – Annex 1 [
2 ]
•  2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – Critically Endangered (since 2007) [3 ]
•  Convention on Migratory Species - Listed Species (Appendix II, as Diomedea irrorata) [4 ]
•  Action Plan for Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata 2008 [5 ]

Domestic – Ecuador
•  Texto Unificado de la Legislación Secundaria del Ministerio del ambiente: Libro IV De La Biodiversidad – Endangered (Annex 1, as Diomedea irrorata) [6 ]

Domestic – Perú
•  Categorization of Threatened Wildlife Species - Vulnerable (Decreto Supremo Nº 034-2004-AG) [7 ]

Breeding Biology

 Table 1. Breeding cycle P. irrorata.

At colonies
Egg laying
Chick provisioning

Breeding States

Table 2. Distribution of the global P. irrorata 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

Virtually the entire breeding population nests on Isla Española (Hood Island), Galápagos Islands, Ecuador, in the southern half of the island. Irregular observations suggest that less than 1% breeds on Isla de La Plata, Ecuador (Figure1) [9 ]. At least one egg has been laid on Isla Genovesa, Galápagos, in 2006, but did not hatch (M. Prieto, pers. comm.). The breeding population size on Española is poorly known, estimated most recently as 9,607 pairs in 2001, with an additional 5,495 breeding adults not nesting in 2001, and an unknown number of breeding-capable adults that nonetheless bred in neither year [9 ]. The breeding population on Isla de La Plata apparently numbers less than 10 pairs, and may often be 0 [9, 10 ]. The total adult population in 2001 on Española (including adults not present that year) was estimated as 31,818-34,694, with up to 30 birds (but typically <10) present on Isla de La Plata (M. Prieto, pers. comm.), and up to 11 adults (but typically 0) on Isla Genovesa [9 ].


Table 3. Monitoring methods and estimates of the population size (annual breeding pairs) for each breeding site. Table based on D. Anderson unpublished data and Anderson et al. 2002[9 ].


Breeding site location
Annual breeding pairs (last census)
Isla Española
1°20’ S, 89° 40’ W
1970-1971, 1994, 2001, 2007
A 1
Low 2
9,607 (2001) [9 ]
Isla Genovesa
0o 20’ N, 89o 58’ W
Irregularly 3
A, B, C
Isla de La Plata
1o 16’ S, 81o 06’ W
1975-1990, irregularly 4
A, B, C

1 corrected for nests not present at time of survey
2The thick vegetation prevents detection of an unknown proportion of birds. The Central Colony has not been counted since 1970
3Casual observations since the 1960s, principally by tour guides and sometimes by scientists
4 Casual observations for an unknown number of years


Breeding site name Jurisdiction Latitude Longitude Size of breeding site (hectares)
Isla de La Plata, Isla de La Plata Ecuador 1° 16' 00" S 81° 04' 00" W 1,214
Isla Espanola, Isla Espanola Ecuador 1° 22' 30" S 89° 40' 30" W 6,048
Isla Genovesa, Isla Genovesa Ecuador 0° 19' 40" N 89° 57' 20" W 1,411

Conservation Listings and Plans for the Breeding Sites

Isla Española and Isla Genovesa (and surrounding waters)
• UNESCO World Heritage Site (inscribed in 1978, extended 2001) [
17 ]
• UNESCO World Heritage in Danger List – 2007 [18 ]

Domestic - Ecuador
Isla Española and Isla Genovesa
• Ley Especial de la Provincia de Galápagos/ Libro VII - Del Régimen Especial: Galápagos [19 ]
• Galápagos National Park
• Galápagos Marine Reserve (IUCN Category IV)
• Galápagos National Park Management Plan 2006 [20 ]
    − zona de Protección Absoluta de Ecosistemas

Isla de La Plata
• Machalilla National Park (IUCN Category Ib)

Population Trends

The breeding population on Isla Española appears to be decreasing in the long term, but there is a lack of accurate, continuous data to allow a trend to be calculated with a high degree of confidence (D. Anderson pers. comm. 2008). The population trends on the other two islands are unknown, with very few birds breeding there. 

 Table 4. Summary of population trend data for P. irrorata. Table based on Anderson et al. 2008 [21 ] and unpublished D. Anderson data.

Breeding site
Current Monitoring
Trend Years
% average change per year
Isla Española
1970-1971, 1994, 2001, 2007
Decreasing* [21 ]
Isla Genovesa
Increasing  from unoccupied to occasional presence of <11 adults
Isla de La Plata
1975-1990, irregularly
*trend not calculated in this assessment
Mean breeding success in a subpopulation on Española was 22.9% during 2000-2004 (ranging from 7.9% during a mild ENSO event in 2003 to 36.9%) [21 ] (Table 5). Movement of eggs by parents, up to 40 metres over several days, often results in egg loss, and may be contributing to the low breeding success [8, 10 ]. Between 1999-2006, average adult survival for males ranged from 85.9% (95% CI 79.2-90.7%) in a mild ENSO event (2002-2003), to between 92.1% (95% CI 87.5-95.1%) and 93.0 % (95%CI 89.5-95.4%) in non-ENSO years. Female survival was virtually identical to males [21 ]. Juvenile survival has not been assessed.

Breeding success and survival rates have not been investigated for the extremely small populations at La Plata and Genovesa.

Table 5. Demographic data for the three P. irrorata breeding sites. Table based on Anderson et al. 2008 [21 ].

Breeding site
Mean breeding success (±SD; Years)
Mean adult survival
Isla Española
22.9% (± 9.6%, 2000-2004)
No data
85.9% (ENSO, 2002-2003)
92.1 - 93.0% (non-ENSO, 1999-2001, 2004-2006)
Isla de La Plata
No data
No data
No data
Isla Genovesa
No data
No data
No data



Breeding Sites: Threats

Few threats exist at any of the breeding sites of P. irrorata (Table 6) and all sites are legally protected.

Table 6. Summary of known threats at the breeding sites of P. irrorata. Table based on unpublished D. Anderson data.

Breeding site
Human disturbance
Human take
Natural disaster
Parasite or Pathogen
Habitat loss or degradation
Predation by alien species
Isla Española
No a
No b
No c
Isla Genovesa
Isla de La Plata

a Some human take occurs.

b Increased abundance of mosquitoes, Aedes taeniorhynchus, during warm ENSO years with heavy rainfall produces distress in the birds and results in mass abandonment of eggs [22, 23 ].

c Increasing vegetative cover on Española due to anthropogenic reduction of tortoise, Geochelone hoodensis, populations prior to 1900, and the 1978 eradication of feral goats, Capra hircus, present during the 1900s is speculated to restrict breeding habitat generally, with strong evidence of this effect at one site [8, 9, 24 ].



Nature of threat Threat sub-category Severity of threat Scope of threat Breeding site name Threat species
Human disturbance Recreation/tourism High Medium Isla de La Plata
Human disturbance Recreation/tourism None None Isla Espanola
Human disturbance Recreation/tourism None None Isla Espanola
Human disturbance Recreation/tourism None None Isla Espanola
Human disturbance Recreation/tourism High High Isla de La Plata
Human disturbance Recreation/tourism High High Isla de La Plata
Human disturbance Recreation/tourism None None Isla Espanola
Parasite or pathogen Parasite None Medium Isla Espanola
Parasite or pathogen Parasite Low Low Isla Espanola
Parasite or pathogen Parasite Low Low Isla Espanola
Parasite or pathogen Parasite Low Low Isla Espanola
Parasite or pathogen Parasite Low Low Isla Espanola
Stress by alien species Nest desertion High High Isla de La Plata Rattus rattus
Stress by alien species Nest desertion High High Isla de La Plata Rattus rattus
Stress by alien species Nest desertion High High Isla de La Plata

Foraging Ecology and Diet

Phoebastria irrorata fly mostly during the day in Galápagos waters and rest on the water at night, which may or may not reflect on the timing of foraging activity [13 ].

No data are available from subadults or non-breeders, and there are no studies from Genovesa or La Plata.

Marine Distribution

Satellite tracking provided distribution data for breeders from the Punta Cevallos, Española colony during the incubation periods of 1995, 1996, 2000 and 2001, the brooding periods of 1996 and 2001, and the rearing period of 1996 (summarized in Anderson et al. 2003 [12 ]). GPS tracking provided data from breeding birds during the brooding periods of 2003 [13 ] and 2004 (J. Awkerman unpub.) and non-breeding birds during the 2004 breeding season [26 ]. These data show a repeatable pattern of distribution, with breeders commuting to the Peruvian continental shelf and shelf break on most trips during the incubation and chick-rearing periods, and remaining near Española during the brooding period, in the south-eastern quadrant of the Galápagos Archipelago. These results are consistent with sea-based observations between 1881 and 1995 which showed the same distribution [16 ] and with band recoveries in fisheries operations over the Peruvian continental shelf [26 ]. Absences of non-breeders during the breeding period suggests that they alternate trips to the Peruvian continental shelf with periods spent close to the colony (J. Awkerman unpub.). 

 There is some indication that P. irrorata distributioncontracts during warm ENSO events, with foraging concentrated in the vicinity of localised upwelling cells that serve as refugia for fish (Jahncke et al. unpub, in [5 ]).

Satellite-tracking data indicate that the P. irrorata breeding and foraging range overlaps with only one Regional Fisheries Management Organisation known to be particularly important to albatross and petrel conservation, the IATTC (Figure 1). The species also overlaps with the soon to be established South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO) that would cover both pelagic and demersal fisheries in the region (predominantly discrete high seas stocks and those stocks which straddle the high seas and the EEZs of coastal states).   Ecuador and Perú are the principal Range States for P. irrorata (Table 7)

 Table 7. Summary of the known ACAP Range States, non-ACAP Exclusive Economic Zones and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations that overlap with the marine distribution of P. irrorata.
Frequency of occurrence in region
Resident/ Breeding and feeding rangeForaging range onlyFew records - outside core foraging range

Known ACAP Range StatesEcuadorPeru

Regional Fisheries Management OrganisationsIATTC

Exclusive Economic Zones of non-ACAP countriesColumbia

IATTC - Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission
SPRFMO - South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation

Marine Threats

Artisanal fishing fleets catch significant numbers of birds, perhaps accidentally in some cases [12 ] and certainly intentionally in others ([26 ]; D. J. Anderson pers. comm. with fishers), and this mortality has been implicated in the recent decline in annual adult survival [21 ]. Matrix modelling of available data on vital rates indicate a declining population at Punta Cevallos, Española [21 ], and low quality data on population size for Española are consistent with a decline since 1994 [21 ]. Long-line fishing is currently banned within the Galápagos Marine Reserve (GMR), but fishery mortality has been reported nonetheless when P. irrorata target single baited hooks in the legal artisanal tuna fishery within the GMR [12 ]

Observer data on seabird bycatch rates from industrial longline fleets in the central and southeast Pacific IATTC area has not been collected. Although P. irrorata is not reputed to be a ship-follower [10 ], its distribution has a high overlap with IATTC longline fishing effort (1997-2004) [27, 28 ]
The single year of study of plastic ingestion indicated that this is limited [21 ].

Key Gaps in Species Assessment

The interaction of albatrosses with the artisanal fishery off the Peruvian and southern Ecuadorian coastsrequires on-site observation and experimental study in relation to the recently documented take in that fishery and ought to be of highest priority [5 ]. One topic of special interest should be the apparently higher risk of males to fishery mortality [26 ], which may be involved in the present female bias in adult sex ratio [29 ], a bias which has implications for population growth in this species with bi-parental care [21 ]

In addition, further study of distribution of different demographic classes at sea and better estimation of vital rates should be undertaken. The general features of at-sea distribution of breeders from Española are reasonably well-studied, but the details of oceanographic features correlated with distribution of this demographic class have been studied only in one year and only during the brooding period [13 ]. Distributions of non-breeders during the breeding season has been studied in only one year (J. Awkerman unpub.), and distribution of adults during the non-breeding season has not been studied using electronic tracking. The distribution of juveniles and prebreeding subadults is completely unstudied with electronic tracking. 
Current monitoring of vital rates estimates annual adult survival, but for one sub-population on Española only. Expansion of this monitoring to other parts of the Española population is advisable, as is similar expansion of monitoring of breeding success, again conducted currently in only two plots. Population size is estimated poorly to date, and requires use of methods that provide estimates of error and overcome current limitations imposed by thick vegetative cover. 
The effect (if any) of changing vegetative cover on the breeding grounds deserves attention. Any possible interactions that might occur with the re-introduced Galápagos tortoises are also worth investigating.  A significant source of breeding failure is the unique habit of moving eggs across the ground, frequently landing them in holes or other inaccessible locations [8 ]. Explaining this phenomenon has so far confounded investigators [30 ].
Almost nothing is known about the birds found on La Plata and Genovesa and systematic diet studies have not been conducted since 1971.


[1] Nunn, G.B., Cooper, J., Jouventin, P., Robertson, C.J.R., and Robertson, G.G. 1996. Evolutionary relationships among extant albatrosses (Procellariiformes: Diomedeidae) established from complete cytochrome-b gene sequences. Auk. 113(4): p. 784-801.

[2] Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

[3] BirdLife International. 2008. Phoebastria irrorata. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. . Available from:

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

[5] Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrossses and Peterels. 2008. Draft Action Plan for Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata.

Compiled by

Dave Anderson
Department of Biology                  

Wake Forest University, USA




Jill Awkerman,
Environmental Protection Agency, USA
Mark Tasker
Vice-chair, ACAP Advisory Committee
ACAP Bycatch Working Group
Contact: Barry Baker
ACAP Breeding Sites Working Group
Contact: Richard Phillips
ACAP Status and Trends Working Group
Contact: Rosemary Gales
ACAP Taxonomy Working Group
Contact: Michael Double
BirdLife International,
Global Seabird Programme
Contact: Cleo Small
Maps – Frances Taylor
Satellite-tracking data contributors – Dave Anderson, Jill Awkerman
Wake Forest University, USA.


Recommended Citation

Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. 2008. Species assessments: Waved albatross. Downloaded from on (date).