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Shy albatross

Thalassarche cauta (Gould, 1841)

Albatros timide
Albatros tímido

Updated on 3-Aug-2008
Critically Endangered Endangered Vulnerable Near Threatened Least Concern Not Listed
Sometimes referred to as
Tasmanian shy albatross
Shy mollymawk
White-capped albatross
Albatros Corona Blanca

Any signifies a link showing the relevant reference.


SpeciesT. cauta

Originally a member of the polytypic species Diomedea cauta (Gould 1841), T. cauta was elevated to specific status when Diomedea  cauta was placed in the genus Thalassarche [7 ] and split into four  species: T. cauta (Shy albatross),T. steadi (White-capped albatross), T. eremita (Chatham albatross) and T. salvini (Salvin’s albatross) [8 ].  The recognition of T. cauta and T. steadi remains controversial [9 ]  [1 ] although following scrutiny of morphological, genetic and  behavioural data the ACAP Taxonomy Working Group endorsed  recognition of T. cauta and T. steadi as separate species in 2006  [10 ].

Conservation Listings and Plans


§         Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels – Annex 1 [1 ]

§         2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – Near Threatened [2 ]

§         Convention on Migratory Species - Listed Species (Appendix II; as Diomedea cauta) [3 ]


National - Australia

§         Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) [4 ]

- Listed Threatened Species – Vulnerable

- Listed Migratory Species

- Listed Marine Species

§         Recovery Plan for Albatrosses and Petrels (2001) [5 ]

§         Threat abatement plan for the incidental catch (or bycatch) of seabirds during oceanic longline fishing operations (2006) [6 ]


Regional - Tasmania

§         Threatened Species Protection Act 1995, Tasmania [7 ]

- Listed Species - Vulnerable


Breeding Biology

Thalassarche cauta is a colonial, annual breeding species; each breeding cycle lasts about 8 months. Most eggs are laid in September, hatch in December and the chicks fledge in April at about 4.5 months old (Table 1) [12 ]

Immature birds begin to return to their breeding colony at least 3 years after fledgling. Most Thalassarche cauta begin breeding annually, almost always in their natal colony, when at least 5 to 6 years old [13 ].

Breeding Sites

Thalassarche cauta is an Australian breeding endemic (Table 2) with colonies on only three islands off Tasmania: Albatross Island, Pedra Branca and the Mewstone (Figure 1; Table 3). Unpublished data submitted to ACAP in 2007 estimated the total breeding population to be approximately 12,750 pairs (Table 3). The total population was estimated to be between 55,000 and 60,000 individuals in 1998 [14 ].



Breeding site name Jurisdiction Latitude Longitude Size of breeding site (hectares)
Albatross Island (AU), Albatross Island (Tas) Australia 40° 23' S 144° 39' E
Pedra Branca, Pedra Branca Australia 43° 52' S 146° 58' E
The Mewstone, The Mewstone Australia 43° 44' S 146° 22' E

Photographer: Wieslawa Misiak ( Contact details )

Conservation Listings and Plans for the Breeding Sites


Mewstone and Pedra Branca

         Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area [15 ]

Population Trends


When Europeans first sighted Albatross Island in the late 1700s, there were thought to be as many as 20,000 pairs of T. cauta breeding at that colony. By 1909 feather and egg collectors had reduced the colony to between 250 and 300 nests [19 ]. Censuses of pre-fledge chicks now suggest the population is increasing, with close to 3000 chicks fledging in 2004 (Figure 2). Trend analyses show that although the number of pre-fledging chicks on Albatross Island has been decreasing since 2004, pre-fledging chick production has actually increased by 2% [20, 21 ] to 3% [22 ] per year between 1981 and 2007 (Table 4). The number of breeding pairs on Albatross Island has also increased at a rate of approximately 3% [22 ] to 4% [20, 21 ] per year between 1999 and 2007 (Figure 3, Table 4). These data suggest the population on Albatross Island is increasing at a moderate rate (p<0.01) [22 ]. However, this colony is currently only 25% of its estimated original size.

Mewstone and Pedra Branca

The historical size of the populations on the Mewstone and Pedra Branca has not been reported so the population trend on these islands is less clear. The population on Pedra Branca may have always been small [5 ] but it appears competition for nesting space from Australasian gannets (Morus serrator) may steadily be reducing the number of fledglings produced on the island each year (Figure 2). Chick production on Pedra Branca dropped from over 100 to 31 between 1993 and 2007 (Figure 2), representing a decrease of approximately 9% [22 ] to 10% [20, 21 ] per year. This degree of change indicates that the Pedra Branca population is in steep decline (p<0.01)[22 ].

No trend data are available for the Mewstone population. In 1996 the total number of breeding pairs on the Mewstone was estimated to be approximately 7,300 (Table 3) but this estimate is of uncertain accuracy [23 ]. An aerial census method is being investigated to accurately determine the population size and trend.

Breeding Sites: Threats

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









a Anthropogenic disturbance is essentially limited to activities associated with the conservation management of the islands.

b Pedra Branca is occasionally exposed to extreme wave action which is known to affect the breeding Australasian gannets (Morus serrator) on the island and may also impact the albatross population.

c In some years, symptoms of a pox virus infection are common on Albatross Island and this disease has been associated with chick mortality and hence depressed breeding success [25 ].

d There are no introduced species on Pedra Branca, while the European wasp is the only introduced species found on Mewstone. The two non-native vascular plant species on Albatross Island (Catapodium marinum currently in the process of being eradicated, and Coprosma repens, planned for eradication) have no impact on the albatross population.

e On Pedra Branca, Australasian gannets have been increasing by 4% a year since 1985 [26 ] and the increased competition for limited nesting space could be contributing to the sharp decline in T. cauta chick numbers over the last 15 years.

f Thalassarche cauta show relatively low levels of heavy metal contamination [27 ].


Nature of threat Threat sub-category Severity of threat Scope of threat Breeding site name Threat species
Habitat loss or destruction Increased competition with native species High Very High Pedra Branca Morus serrator
Habitat loss or destruction Increased competition with native species High High Pedra Branca Morus serrator
Parasite or pathogen Pathogen Low High Albatross Island (AU)
Parasite or pathogen Pathogen Low High Albatross Island (AU)
Parasite or pathogen Pathogen Low High Albatross Island (AU) Unknown pathogen
Parasite or pathogen Pathogen Low High Albatross Island (AU) Unknown pathogen
Parasite or pathogen Pathogen Low High Albatross Island (AU)
Parasite or pathogen Pathogen Low High Albatross Island (AU)
Parasite or pathogen Pathogen Low High Albatross Island (AU)

Shy albatross on nest
Location: Albie Island
Date: 2005
Photographer: Aleks Terauds ( Contact details )
Copyright: Aleks Terauds

Foraging Ecology and Diet


Thalassarche cauta usually forage singly and have been observed taking prey from the surface or occasionally making surface plunges or shallow dives. However, a study using time-depth recorders revealed T. cauta commonly plunge-dive within 3 m of the surface and can swim down to over 7 metres [28 ]. The diet of T. cauta has only been examined through food delivered to chicks at Albatross Island. There, fish (mostly Jack mackerel, Trachurus declivis and redbait, Emmelichthys nitidus) dominated the diet (89% wet mass), followed by cephalopods (mostly Gould's squid, Nototodarus gouldi) and small amounts of tunicates and crustaceans [28 ]. Evidence suggests T. cauta capture most prey during the day [29 ].


Marine Distribution

Understanding of the marine distribution of T. cauta is confounded by its similar appearance to other albatross species, particularly T. steadi. However, band recoveries, satellite-tracking data, and genetic identification of birds caught in fishing operations show that T. cauta are most frequently found around Tasmania and southern Australia [23; 30 ] but its range also extends to southern Africa (Figure 1). Satellite tracking data show T. cauta are less pelagic than many other albatross species, are usually found over the continental shelf, and regularly venture close to shore along the coasts of Tasmania and southern Australia [13, 31, 32 ] (Figure 4 & 5). Adult T. cauta remain close to their breeding colonies year-round [13, 31 ] whereas juvenile birds (predominantly from the Mewstone colony) have been recorded off southern Africa [23 ]. During breeding, adults forage close to their colonies, usually within 300kms, in waters less than 200m deep [13 ]. The only evidence that shy albatrosses occur in New Zealand is from a single band recovery from a bird that was banded at the Mewstone colony [23; 30 ].

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

Known ACAP Range StatesAustraliaSouth AfricaNew Zealand

Regional Fisheries Management OrganisationsWCPFC

Exclusive Economic Zones of non-ACAP countriesNamibia

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

Marine Threats

Like most marine organisms, T. cauta are exposed to the threats of marine debris, plastic ingestion and pollution, but it is the incidental mortality of T. cauta in fishing operations that is thought to pose the greatest threat. Thalassarche cauta are known to be killed in longline fishing operations in Australian and South African waters [23; 30; 33; 34 ]. Thalassarche cauta juveniles that leave Australian waters and traverse the Indian Ocean to southern Africa (Figure 5) are particularly vulnerable to interactions with fishing operations. Both high seas longline fleets and South African longline and trawl fisheries are known to kill large numbers of albatrosses [34; 35 ]. Adult shy albatrosses largely remain within the Australian waters but, based on 2005 fishing effort profiles, their exposure to domestic longline fisheries is limited [13 ]. Thalassarche cauta are killed in Australian trawl fisheries but the magnitude of the impact is poorly understood.

Key Gaps in Species Assessment

Thalassarche cauta is one of the more comprehensively studied albatross species. This is particularly the case for the Albatross Island population (comprising 40% of the total population) where the population trends, diet and behavioural ecology have all been the subject of investigation. The marine distribution is reasonably well known, with tracking studies being undertaken on both adults and juveniles from all three colonies [32 ]. However, the population size and trend for the Mewstone, the largest of the three breeding sites (c. 60% of the total population) remains a significant gap in the species assessment, as do accurate estimates of adult and juvenile survival for all populations. Urgent assessment of management options in relation to the precarious status of the small and genetically distinct Pedra Branca population is required. The most significant threat to this species is mortality associated with fisheries operations. The impact of trawl fisheries in Australia and fishing operations in the Indian Ocean and off southern Africa is currently unknown.


[1] Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

[2] Birdlife International (2007). Thalassarche cauta. In: IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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

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

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

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

[7] Tasmanian Government Threatened Species Protection Act (1995).

[8] Nunn GB, Cooper J, Jouventin P, Robertson CJR and Robertson GG (1996). Evolutionary relationships among extant albatrosses (Procellariiformes: Diomedeidae) established from complete cytochrome-b gene sequences. Auk 113:784-801.

[9] 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.

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

[11] Taxonomy Working Group of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) (2006). Report of Taxonomy Working Group (AC2 Doc 11). Second Meeting of the ACAP Advisory Committee (AC2).

[12] Abbott CA, Double MC, Gales R and Cockburn A (2006). Copulation behaviour and paternity in shy albatrosses, Thalassarche cauta. Journal of Zoology (London) 270:628-634

[13] Brothers N, Gales R, Hedd A and Robertson G (1998). Foraging movements of the shy albatross Diomedea cauta breeding in Australia - implications for interactions with longline fisheries. Ibis 140:446-457.

[14] 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.

[15] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

[16] Tasmanian Government Nature Conservation Act 2002.

[17] Summary of Bass Strait Island Nature Reserves - Draft Management Plan, October 2000.

[18] Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Areas Management Plan (1999).

[19] Johnstone GW, Milledge D and Dorward DF (1975). The white-capped albatross of Albatross Island: number and breeding behaviour. Emu 75:1-11.

[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] Morris WF and Doak DF (2002). Quantitative Conservation Biology Theory and the Practice of Population Viability Analysis. Sinaur Associates: Sunderland, MA.

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

[23] Brothers NP, Reid TA and Gales RP (1997). At-sea distribution of shy albatrosses Diomedea cauta cauta derived from records of band recoveries and colour-marked birds. Emu 97:231-239.

[24] Hamilton S, Gales R and Brothers N (2000). Shy albatrosses in Australia: population and conservation assessment. Unpublished DPIW Report to DEH, Tasmania.

[25] Woods R (2004). Result of a preliminary disease survey in Shy albatross (Thalassache cauta Gould 1941) chicks at Albatross Island, Bass Strait Tasmania. In Proceedings of the Annual conference of the Australian Association of Veterinary Conservation Biologists, Canberra, May 2004. Pages 98 – 105.

[26] Bunce, A., Norman, F.I, Brothers, N, Gales, R. 2002. Long term trends in the Australasian gannet (Morus serrator) population in Australia. Marine Biology 141: 263-269.

[27] Hindell MA, Brothers N and Gales R (1999). Mercury and cadmium concentrations in the tissues of three species of southern albatrosses. Polar Biology 22:102-108.

[28] Hedd A, Gales R, Brothers N and Robertson G (1997). Diving behaviour of the shy albatross Diomedea cauta in Tasmania - initial findings and dive recorder assessment. Ibis 139:452-460.

[29] Hedd A and Gales R (2001). The diet of shy albatrosses (Thalassarche cauta) at Albatross Island, Tasmania. Journal of Zoology (London) 253:69-90.

[30] Abbott CA, Double MC, Baker GB, Gales R, Lashko A, Robertson CJR and Ryan PG (2006). Molecular provenance analysis for shy and white-capped albatrosses killed by fisheries interactions in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Conservation Genetics 7:531-542.

[31] Hedd A, Gales R and Brothers N (2001). Foraging strategies of shy albatross Thalassarche cauta breeding at Albatross Island, Tasmania, Australia. Marine Ecology Progress Series 224:267-282.

[32] 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.

[33] Gales R, Brothers N and Reid T (1998). Seabird mortality in the Japanese tuna longline fishery around Australia, 1988-1995. Biological Conservation 86:37-56.

[34] Baker GB, Double MC, Gales R, Tuck GN, Abbott CL, Ryan PG, Petersen SL, Robertson CJR, Baird SJ and Alderman R (2007). A global assessment of the impact of fisheries related mortality on shy and white-capped albatrosses: conservation implications. Biological Conservation 137: 319-333.

[35] Ryan PG, Keith DG and Kroese M (2002). Seabird bycatch by longline fisheries off southern Africa, 1998-2000. South African Journal of Marine Science 24:103-110.

Compiled by

Michael C. Double, Rosemary Gales, and Rachael Alderman.



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
Satellite Tracking Data contributors –
Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water

Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water
Contact: Rosemary Gales