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Tubenosed Seabirds: Procellariiformes

Conservation Status

Twenty-three of the 108 species are threatened with extinction. One species, the Guadalupe storm-petrel, has become extinct since 1600. The primary threat is the introduction of predators to the breeding islands.


  • Procellariiforms smell really bad. Experts attribute this smell to the oil in the birds' stomachs. Giant petrels are nicknamed "stinkers" because of the intensity of their odor.
  • Some seafarers believed albatrosses were good omens and that killing one would bring bad luck.
  • Other fishermen considered it bad luck to see an albatross.
  • Folklore has it that procellariiforms are the embodiment of the souls of cruel sea captains or drowned sailors, destined to wander the seas for all eternity.
  • Albatrosses are well known for being able to follow ships for thousands of miles (kilometers).
  • Despite the superstition that to kill an albatross would bring bad luck, sailors used albatross feet for tobacco pouches even into the late 1800s.

Prior to 1991, drift-net fishing was allowed. This is a type of fishing in which large nets were cast onto the waters and then hauled in. Although drift-nets efficiently caught large numbers of fish with little effort, they also caught other wildlife, including dolphins and seabirds. Drift-net fisheries were believed to be responsible for the deaths of 500,000 seabirds every year. Despite the ban on drift-net fishing, thousands of procellariiforms are still killed by long-line fisheries, a method in which long, thick hooks are baited and cast out to sea; the hooks often get caught in the necks of albatrosses, and this method catches a lot of "trash" sea life, similar to drift-netting fisheries, and trawl, a bag-like net is carried along by a boat, catching everything in its wake. A 1991 study estimated that 44,000 albatrosses are killed in Japan each year by these methods.



Bent, Arthur Cleveland. Life Histories of North American Petrels and Pelicans and Their Allies. New York: Dover Publications, 1987.

Robbins, Chandler S., et al. Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Indentification. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.

Servenly, Vincent. Flight of the Shearwater. Kenthurst, Australia: Kangaroo Press, 1997.

Warham, John. The Petrels: Their Ecology and Breeding System. London and San Diego: Academic Press, 1990.


Braasch, Gary. "Antarctic Mystery—Why Are Southern Giant Petrels Thriving on One Peninsula, But Declining Almost Everywhere Else?" International Wildlife (March–April 2001): 52–57.

Deneen, Sally. "Going, Going . . . Exotic Species are Decimating America's Native Wildlife." E: The Environmental Magazine (May–June 2002): 34–39.

Sessions, Laura. "Date With Extinction: For a Thousand Years Before People Settled in New Zealand, a Small Alien Predator May Have Been Undermining the Islands' Seabird Population." Natural History (April 2003): 52–57.

Web sites:

"Albatross and Petrels (Procellariiformes)." Earthlife. http://www.earthlife.net/birds/procellariiformes.html (accessed on May 13, 2004).


NatureServe. http://www.natureserve.org (accessed on July 13, 2004).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsTubenosed Seabirds: Procellariiformes - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Tubenosed Seabirds And People, Conservation Status - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE