Gibson's Albatross (Diomedea gibsoni)

Taxonomy

Also known as Auckland Wandering Albatross [AKWA] (e.g. Tickell 2000). Recently split by Robertson and Nunn away from Wandering Albatross (Robertson and Nunn 1998). However, the taxonomy still controversial and in need of further study. Russ and Shirihai suggest that Gibson's be considered conspecific with Antipodes Albatross (Russ and Shirihai 2000).

I believe this albatross is named after the Australian J. Doug Gibson, a pioneer of albatross studies. In the mid-1960's Gibson together with members of the New South Wales Albatross Study Group, derived a unified system for describing great albatross plumage. Known as the Gibson Plumage Index (GPI) or Gibson Code, between 4 and 6 numerical values were assigned to particular degrees of coloration on the back, head, inner wing and tail (Gibson 1967). For example, a bird with a solid brown back would recieve a score of 1, whilst a bird with an all white back would score 6. In 1989, Jouventin and colleagues expanded the GPI to handle the more complex patterning of Amsterdam Albatross, adding belly and tibial feather coloration (Jouventin et al. 1989).  This method for characterizing the seemingly infinite variation in appearance of Great Albatrosses has proved instrumental in the recognition that there are multiple populations and has laid the ground work for field identification.
 

Identification

Poorly known! Always paler than Antipodean Albatross but not as extreme as Snowy Albatross. Generally smaller than other 'wandering types', particularly the enormous 'Snowy [Wandering] Albatross. For example, Tickell (2000) cites a mean culmen length for Gibson's Albatross are 151-mm (males) and 146-mm (females) whereas Wandering Albatross from Macquarie Island average 166-mm (males) and 158-mm (females).

Although both breeding age males and females tend to be lighter than Antipodian Albatross, exceptions occur in both populations (Onley and Bartle 1999; Rodney Russ, pers. com). There is some evidence that dark adult females may remain so for many years.
 

Where and When

Essentially endemic to the Auckland Islands of New Zealand where the population is estimated at ~10,000. The non-breeding range is poorly known but probably disperse across southern Pacific. Brian Parkinson mentions that Gibson's Albatross are regularly encountered trans-Tasman shipping routes and to seas off Sydney (Parkinson 2000). Certainly there are a number of documented sightings from Wollongong and Sydney pelagics.

Nest over much of the high tussock ground on Adams Island (4,000-7,000 pairs) at the southern end of the Aukland Island group. The highest densities occur on the southern slopes above Fly Harbor and Lake Turbott, also around Astrolabe and Amherst Rock (Tickell 2000). Also nest along the high ridge atop the smaller Disappointment Island (200-250 pairs) which they share with a huge colony of Shy Albatross (60,000-72,000 pairs). Small numbers of Gibson's Albatross (50-70 pairs) nest on the high slopes of the main Auckland Island.

The main threat is from by-catch during long-line tune fishing. Adams Island is free of introduced animals but the main Auckland Island is still infested with feral pigs which provide a severe threat to nesting albatross (Russ and Shirihai 2000).
 

Photographs on the web

Immature and adult By Tony Palliser and posted on his pelagic web site.
 

Literature

Gibson, J. D. (1967) The Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans): results of banding and observations in New South Wales coastal waters and Tasman Sea. Notornis 14: 47-57

Jouventin, P. Martinez, J. and Roux, J-P. (1989) Breeding biology and current status of the Amsterdam Island Albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis. Ibis 131: 171-182.

Parkinson, B. (2000) Field Guide to New Zealands Seabirds. New Holland (NZ) Ltd, Auckland.

Robertson, C. J. R. and Nunn, G. B. (1998) Towards a new taxonomy for albatrosses in: Proceedings First International Conference on the Biology and Conservation of Albatrosses, G.Robertson & R.Gales (Eds), Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, 13-19, 1998
 

Robertson, C. J. R. and Warham, J. (1994) Measurements of Diomedea exulans antipodensis and D. e. gibsoni. Bull B. O. C. 114: 132-134.

Russ, R. and Shirihai, H. (2000) The birds, marine mammals, habitat and history of the subantarctic islands off New Zealand. Alula 3(6): 82-147.

Tickell, W. L. N. (2000) Albatrosses. Yale University Press.


Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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