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Black-footed Albatross

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Black-footed Albatross

The black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) is a large seabird of the albatross family Diomedeidae from the North Pacific. All but 2.5% of the population is found among the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It is one of three species of albatross that range in the northern hemisphere, nesting on isolated tropical islands. Unlike many albatrosses, it is dark plumaged.

Black-footed albatrosses are a type of albatross that belong to family Diomedeidae of the order Procellariiformes, along with shearwaters, fulmars, storm petrels, and diving petrels. They share certain identifying features. First, they have nasal passages that attach to the upper bill called naricorns. Although the nostrils on the albatross are on the sides of the bill. The bills of Procellariiformes are also unique in that they are split into between seven and nine horny plates. Finally, they produce a stomach oil made up of wax esters and triglycerides that is stored in the proventriculus. This is used both against predators and as an energy rich food source for chicks and for the adults during their long flights.[4] They also have a salt gland that is situated above the nasal passage that helps desalinate their bodies, to compensate for the high amount of ocean water that they imbibe. It excretes a high saline solution from their nose.[5]

The black-footed albatross, along with the Laysan albatross and the rare short-tailed albatross, are the three species of albatross that range in the northern hemisphere, as opposed to the rest of the family which range from the Equator south. There are at least 12 known breeding locations, but 97.5% of the total population is found colonially on the isolated Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, from Kure Atoll to Kaula Island,[3] (such as Laysan, Midway, and the French Frigate Shoals). Small populations can be found on the Japanese islands of Tori Shima, Bonin, and Senkaku, and off the Mexican coast, primarily on Isla Guadalupe.[14] They are extirpated from the Iwo Jima, Agrihan, Taongi Atoll, Marcus Island, Wake Island, and Johnston Island.[3] Their range at sea varies during the seasons (straying farther from the breeding islands when the chicks are older or they don't have chicks) but they make use of great areas of the North Pacific, feeding from Alaska to California and Japan; however they do prefer the northeastern Pacific Ocean.[14] They overlap greatly in breeding and feeding range with the other two species of northern albatross, although the other two will range further north into the Bering Sea than the Black-footed will. They have, on occasion, been sighted in the southern hemisphere.[14]

The black-footed albatross, like the rest of its family, forms long term pair-bonds that last for life. After fledging the birds return to the colony after three years, and spend two years building nests, dancing and being with prospective mates, a behaviour that probably evolved to ensure maximum trust between the birds (raising an albatross chick is a massive energetic investment, and a long courting period establishes for both birds that the other is committed). They will start reproducing after about seven years,[8] mating every two years.[15]

The black-footed albatross feeds in pelagic waters, taking the eggs of flying fish, live fish, fish offal,[16] squid and to a lesser extent crustaceans. It will also consume floating debris, including plastics.[8][14]

The black-footed albatross is considered near threatened by the IUCN,[1] because it is taken incidentally by longline fishing. An estimated 4,000 are taken every year, based on the number taken in 1990; other estimates put the number at 8,000,[14] although more recent numbers are at around 6,150 per year with the majority of deaths from Taiwanese and Japanese fishing fleets. It is also vulnerable to oil and ingestion of floating plastics, which reduces the space in the stomach available for food to be brought to the chick. Finally volcanic erupt


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