Great albatrosses

Genus Diomedea

Six species listed here.

  • Snowy or Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans, Crozet, Kerguelen, Macquarie Is., Heard, Marion I., S. Georgia.
  • New Zealand Albatross Diomedea antipodensis, (formerly exulans) two subspecies:
    • Antipodian Albatross Diomedea a. antipodensis, Antipodes Is.
    • Gibson’s or Auckland Wandering Albatross Diomedea a. gibsoni. Auckland Is. off New Zealand
  • Amsterdam Albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis, Amsterdam I. (formerly exulans)
  • Tristan or Gough Albatross Diomedea dabbenena, Tristan da Cunha and Gough Is. (formerly exulans)
  • Southern Royal Albatross Diomedea epomophora, Auckland and Campbell Is.
  • Northern Royal Albatross Diomedea sanfordi, New Zealand and Chatham Is.

Evolution and taxonomy


The Great Albatrosses are all birds of the Southern Hemisphere. They breed on several islands in the southern part of all three major oceans and wander around outside the breeding season and when immature. Nevertheless some species have a more or less restricted area. The Tristan Albatross is confined mainly to the South Atlantic. Both races of the New Zealand or Antipodian/Gibson's Albatross hardly move outside the southern Indian Ocean, as does the Amsterdam Albatross in an even more restricted range around its breeding island. Both Royals and the Snowy Albatross wander around the globe.


All Diomedea species are majestic 'sail planes', very much adapted to a life on the open oceans. They are heavy birds (8+ kg) with long and narrow wings and a high wing loading. The aspect ratio of the wings is about 15.3. Their anatomy is designed for dynamic soaring on stiff outstretched wings, using the strong winds and updrafts to cover great distances at low cost of energy. The flight muscles are small and primarely suited for static forces, rather than active wing movements like the smaller tubenoses. Flight muscles take only about 6% of the total weight of the bird (in the 'average' bird about 16%). Foraging takes place mostly by surface feeding. Wandering Albatrosses seldom dive and if they do less than half a metre. Despite their pelagic life Great Albatrosses are resonably good walkers, unlike most other tubenoses which are capable only to shuffling or a short wing assisted run.


skull wandering albatross diomedea exulans

Snowy or Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans (chionoptera), Collected by a German whaler, 1907.
Culmen: 168.5 mm; total: 264 mm, unsexed adult.

Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena,
Culmen: 150.8; total: 231 mm, unsexed adult. Courtesey of G. v.d. Brink

Southern Royal Albatross Diomedea epomophora. The Snares, NZ.
Culmen: 190 mm, total: ca. 305 mm, Adult male. Courtesey of B. Zonfrillo, Univ. of Glasgow, Scotland

  • Flight apparatus
  • Pelvis and legs
  • Vertebrae and ribs