The seabird can be found on the open sea, frequenting nearshore and coastal waters. The Short-tailed Albatross feeds primarily on squid, as well as fish, shrimp and other crustaceans. Like other albatross species, they are long-lived, with some known birds over forty years old. They start breeding around age seven and often mate for life, nesting at sites in the same breeding colony in which they were born. In October, the pairs arrive to the nesting sites on open, grassy slopes and lay a single egg, which is not replaced if destroyed. Both parents then take turns incubating the egg and foraging over thousands of miles to find food for the chick, eventually leaving the chick on its own when it is old enough to take to the sea.
The Short-tailed Albatross, while currently few in number, ranges widely throughout its historical range of the North Pacific Ocean, including waters off China, Japan, Russia, the Bering Strait, the west coast of Canada and the United States, and Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Nesting occurs only in Japan, on the volcanic Torishima and Minami-Kojima Islands. However, attempts are being made to establish a breeding colony at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge to enhance population recovery efforts, with the first courtship recorded there in 2008. In summer (non-breeding season) the birds spend their time on the plentiful feeding grounds of the northern Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands, and Bering Sea region.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, feather hunters and egg collectors killed an estimated five million Short-tailed Albatross. By 1933, fewer than 50 birds remained, and by 1949, the species was thought to be extinct. In 1950, however, nesting was discovered on a single island in Japan and subsequent aggressive protection of the breeding colonies in Japan prevented extinction. Through conservation efforts, the population has seen a gradual increase to approximately 2,350 individuals today. Nonetheless, the Short-tailed Albatross’ population is still considered to be very small—that and its limited breeding range of only two islands contribute to making it vulnerable to extinction. With hunting no longer a serious threat, the Short-tailed Albatross is now faced with less direct threats, such as loss of habitat on its main breeding sites, as well as accidental entanglement in longline, driftnets and other fishing gear. Some Alaskan fishing fleets are instituting measures to deter albatrosses from approaching fishing vessels. Natural disasters, such as volcanic eruptions, mudslides caused by monsoon rains, and typhoons may put the seabird at risk at its nesting colonies. Introduced predators, such as black rats, prey on eggs and chicks. Contamination from oil spills and accidental ingestion of plastic debris are also significant concerns.