MiCO: Migratory Connectivity in the Ocean Twitter
Case Study

Transboundary connectivity: Laysan albatross

Due to sharp reductions in their populations, the Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) is currently classified by the IUCN as near threatened. In fact, all 21 species of albatross have been classified as either threatened or near threatened, with 19 considered threatened and the other two near threatened including the Laysan albatross.

These large North Pacific Ocean-dwelling seabirds live between 40-60 years on average, with some living even longer. They typically form long-term monogamous breeding pairs and return to the same nesting area annually or biennially to lay a single egg. This low reproductive rate makes the Laysan albatross slow to recover from human impacts, such as interactions with commercial fisheries, ingestion of plastics, pollution, and sea-level rise, as well as invasive species on nesting sites.

Laysan Albatoss photo by Ben Lascelles

During their annual cycle, Laysan albatross undertake different types of migrations, connecting subtropical breeding colonies in Hawaii, Mexico (Guadalupe Island), and Japan (Ogasawara Islands) to temperate and sub-Arctic oceanic foraging habitats, including areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) where they spend two thirds of their time. These seabirds are tagged in their nesting colonies in the northwestern Hawaii Islands in their breeding season between November and July. Within this period, the Laysan albatross make long foraging trips to feeding areas in the high seas to gain the energy they need to raise their young and provide them with food.

Within the critical period after their chicks hatch, Laysan albatross must shorten the length of their foraging migrations in order to care for their young. Foraging trips within this brooding period last just one to three days, preventing albatrosses from exploiting distant habitats and restricting their use of resources to ABNJ adjacent to the Exclusive Economic Zone of the colony. However, once the chicks have fledged, the Laysan albatrosses’ post-breeding migrations extend to approximately eight months and include use of the distant waters of Japan, Russia, Alaska, Canada and California, as well as ABNJ. They remain in these productive waters until November or December, when the Laysan albatross migrate back to their breeding colonies.

This case study was supported by the work of MiCO partners

Stanford UniversityUniversity of California Santa CruziOOS Animal Telemetry Network

Migration Maps

  • Laysan albatross movement tracks

    Blue lines represent movement paths of Laysan albatrosses in the north Pacific, tagged with Argos satellite transmitters. Tags were attached in French Frigate Shoals (n=140), Isla Guadalupe (n=74) and a non-breeding site (n=18), and transmitted for 2 to 268 days. Argos data were state space modelled to obtain the most probable tracklines. For display, tracks were smoothed in ArcMap. Individual birds entered the Exclusive Economic Zones of Canada, Japan, Russia, and the United States but spent the majority of their annual cycle in the high seas.


Block, B. A., I. D. Jonsen, S. J. Jorgensen, A. J. Winship, S. A. Shaffer, S. J. Bograd, E. L. Hazen, D. G. Foley, G. A. Breed, A.-L. Harrison, J. E. Ganong, A. Swithenbank, M. Castleton, H. Dewar, B. R. Mate, G. L. Shillinger, K. M. Schaefer, S. R. Benson, M. J. Weise, R. W. Henry, and D. P. Costa. 2011. Tracking apex marine predator movements in a dynamic ocean. Nature 475: 86-90.


Harrison, A. 2012. A synthesis of marine predator migrations, distribution, species overlap, and use of Pacific Ocean Exclusive Economic Zones. UC Santa Cruz. ProQuest ID: Harrison_ucsc_0036E_10027. Merritt ID: ark:/13030/m5z3229q. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/1vh7h6jx


Harrison, A.-L., D.P. Costa,  A.J. Winship, S.R. Benson, S.J. Bograd, M. Antolos, A.B. Carlisle, H. Dewar, P.H. Dutton, S.J. Jorgensen, S. Kohin, B.R. Mate, P.W. Robinson, K.M. Schaefer.


Data from the Tagging of Pacific Predators Project via the U.S. Animal Tracking Network