Great albatross
Temporal range: early Pliocene to present
Southern Royal Albatross
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Aequorlitornithes
Clade: Ardeae
Clade: Aequornithes
Clade: Austrodyptornithes
Order: Procellariiformes
Family: Diomedeidae
Genus: Diomedea
Linnaeus, 1758

The great albatrosses are seabirds in the genus Diomedea in the albatross family. The genus Diomedea formerly included all albatrosses except the sooty albatrosses, but in 1996 the genus was split with the mollymawks and the North Pacific albatrosses both being elevated to separate genera.[1] The great albatrosses themselves form two species complexes, the wandering and Amsterdam albatrosses, and the royal albatrosses. The splitting of the great albatrosses into six or seven species has been accepted by most, though not all authorities.[2][3]


Diomedea comes from the Greek hero Diomedes, who, legend has it, was driven by a storm to Italy and was stranded with his companions who were turned to birds.[4]


The Wandering Albatross and the Southern Royal Albatross are the largest of the albatrosses and are amongst the largest of flying birds. They have the largest wingspans of any bird; being up to 3.5 m (11 ft) from tip to tip, although the average is a little over 3 m (9.8 ft). Large adult males of these two species may exceed 11 kg (24 lb) in weight, as heavy as a large swan.

File:Diomedea (great albatross) heads.jpg

The great albatrosses are predominantly white in plumage as adults, with birds becoming whiter as they age. The two Royal Albatrosses at all ages and the larger, older male Wandering Albatrosses are totally white-bodied, while adult females and younger animals of the other species have dark pencilling marks on the edges of their feathers. Generally the smaller species or subspecies and the juveniles have more dark brown colour. The recently discovered Amsterdam Albatross retains the dark brown plumage of juvenile birds into adulthood.

Habitat and range

The Great albatrosses range across the Southern Ocean, and nest (for the most part) on isolated oceanic islands. The wandering albatrosses nest on islands around the Southern Ocean, from the Atlantic Ocean (South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha), to the Indian Ocean and New Zealand's sub-Antarctic islands. The royal albatrosses nest only on New Zealand's sub-Antarctic islands, with one unusual colony on New Zealand's Otago Peninsula.

Systematics and evolution

Genus Diomedea - Great albatrosses

The earliest known fossils of the genus are from the Middle Miocene, about 12-15 mya. By that time, the genera Phoebastria and Diomedea had already diverged.

Fossil species[5][6]

  • Diomedea milleri (Round Mountain Silt Middle Miocene of Sharktooth Hill and possibly Astoria Middle Miocene of Oregon, USA)
  • Diomedea sp. (Late Miocene of Valdez Peninsula, Antarctica)[5]
  • Diomedea sp. (Early Pliocene of South Africa)[5]
  • Diomedea sp. (Early Pliocene of Bone Valley, Florida)[5]
  • Diomedea thyridata Wilkinson, 1969 (Upper Miocene, Beaumaris Bay Fossil Site, Australia) [7][8]

At least 4 species were found in the Early Pliocene deposits of Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina.[5] These may in part be identical with the forms mentioned above. Assignment of the undescribed taxa to Diomedea is tentative since most of them were discovered before the splitting of this genus. Especially the Southern Hemisphere species probably belong to other genera.


  1. ^ Nunn, G. B., et al., (1996)
  2. ^ Penhallurick, J. & Wink, M. (2004)
  3. ^ Rheindt, F. E. & Austin, J. (2005)
  4. ^ Gotch, A. F. (1995)
  5. ^ a b c d e Olson, S. L. (1985)
  6. ^ Haaramo, M. (2005)
  7. ^ Diomedea thyridata
  8. ^ Beaumaris Bay Fossil Site, Beaumaris, VIC Profile


  • Brands, Sheila (Aug 14 2008). "Systema Naturae 2000 / Classification - Subfamily Diomedeinae". Project: The Taxonomicon. Retrieved 12 Feb 2009.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Brooke, Michael (2004): Albatrosses and Petrels across the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York. ISBN 0-19-850125-0
  • Gotch, A. F. (1995) [1979]. "Albatrosses, Fulmars, Shearwaters, and Petrels". Latin Names Explained. A Guide to the Scientific Classifications of Reptiles, Birds & Mammals. New York, NY: Facts on File. p. 190. ISBN 0 8160 3377 3. 
  • Haaramo, Mikko (2005): Mikko's Phylogeny Archive: Diomedeidae - albatrosses. Version of 2005-11-15. Retrieved 2006-09-25.
  • Nunn, Gary B.; Cooper, John; Jouventin, Pierre; Robertson, Chris J. R. & Robertson Graham G. (1996): Evolutionary relationships among extant albatrosses (Procellariiformes: Diomedeidae) established from complete cytochrome-b gene sequences. Auk 113(4): 784-801. PDF fulltext
  • Olson, Storrs L. (1985): Section X, H, 1. Diomedeidae. In: Farner, D.S.; King, J.R. & Parkes, Kenneth C. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 208-210. Academic Press, New York.
  • Penhallurick, John & Wink, Michael (2004): Analysis of the taxonomy and nomenclature of the Procellariformes based on complete nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. Emu 104(2): 125-147. doi:10.1071/MU01060 (HTML abstract)
  • Rheindt, F. E. & Austin, J. (2005): Major analytical and conceptual shortcomings in a recent taxonomic revision of the Procellariiformes - A reply to Penhallurick and Wink (2004). Emu 105(2): 181-186. doi:10.1071/MU04039 PDF fulltext
  • Tickell, W. L. N. (2000): Albatrosses. Pica Press, Sussex. ISBN 1-873403-94-1

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