Great Shearwater
(Ardenna gravis)


Picture of bird
© Cotinis - License
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Great Shearwaters breed on a few remote islands in the central south Atlantic and migrate more than 15,000 km north along the east coasts of South and North America. It is thought that the vast majority of the world population spends the non-breeding season in the western North Atlantic, between Georges Bank and southern Greenland (Brooke 2004). In Canada, the species is regularly detected on pelagic surveys from spring through fall, capturing both overwintering and migrating birds. However, monitoring results from Canadian waters are too variable to determine any change in population status relative to about 1970. Canada’s conservation responsibility for the Great Shearwater is very high given the high percentage of the world’s population that use Canadian waters during the non-breeding season. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Wild Species (Canada)Secure2015 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaData DeficientData DeficientData Deficient

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
CanadaNot yet available

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Seasonal visitor

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population
CanadaVery High

Conservation and management

Among seabird species globally, Great Shearwaters are within the top-20 largest consumers of marine biomass (Brooke 2004a), eating a wide variety of prey in Canadian waters including fish, squid, and krill (Ronconi et al. 2010). Great Shearwaters have been known to drown on long-lines off Tristan da Cunha and Brazil (Cuthbert 2005), and are reported as by-catch in American and Canadian fisheries (Hedd et al. 2015, Hatch 2018). These birds, like many other seabird species, have also been known to starve to death after ingesting plastics, which fill their stomachs (Pierce et al. 2004); in Provencher et al. 2014, Great Shearwaters had the highest prevalence of ingested plastics of all the species examined. The impact of these sources of mortality on the global population is unknown. The Eastern Canada Seabirds at Sea Monitoring Program provides current data and information on Great Shearwater abundance and distribution in Canadian waters during their non-breeding season. These data provide critical information for environmental assessments related to offshore developments, emergency response related to oil spills, risk assessments, marine protected area planning, and other management and conservation initiatives.


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Gulf of St. LawrenceGulf of St. Lawrence, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NL -- Conservation
Gulf of St. LawrenceGulf of St. Lawrence, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NS -- Conservation
Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves , sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NL -- Conservation
Scotian ShelfScotian Shelf, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NB -- Conservation
Scotian ShelfScotian Shelf, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NS -- Conservation