Monday, October 31, 2011

Animal of the Week: Albatross

Albatrosses are a group of large sea birds found around the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific. They are absent from the North Atlantic, although fossil remains show they once occurred there too. Of all the flying birds they are some of the largest with the species the Great Albatross having the widest wingspan of any living bird exceeding 340 cm (11.2 ft). All albatrosses have the great flying ability, using dynamic soaring and slope soaring to fly great distances with little exertion. They can stay in the air for hours on end without resting or even having to flap their wings.

Albatrosses are carnivores with a diet consisting mainly of fish, krill and squid. They obtain this via scavenging, surface fishing or diving. They do not migrate each year in search of food but rather radio tracking has revealed they will disperse over large areas in search of food. When it comes to water they simply live of sea water. They get rid of the salt which drips from its ‘tube-nose’, which makes it look like the bird is crying.

When it comes to breeding they will form large colonies on coastal areas. They prefer very remote islands with little human interruption and will quite happily nest amongst other species of albatross. A male-female pair will form a bond that will last for several years to life after a male has attracted her with a ritualised mating dance. The breeding process is a lengthy one as it can take a year from egg laying to fledgling. Considering they only lay one egg per breeding cycle, this is a huge investment. Depending on the species the chick will be in the air within 3-10 months.

Of the 21 species recognised by the IUCN, 19 are considered Threatened. Factors affecting their survival include feral animals such as rats and cats and over fishing declining their food stocks. However a horrific threat is caused by long line fishing. The birds are attracted by the smell of the bait but then become hooked in the lines and drown. An estimated 100,000 birds are killed this way each year. Unregulated pirate fisheries exacerbate the problem.

Organisations such as BirdLife International ( and  are working so that relevant international agreements are implemented that will benefit both the birds and the legal fishing industry. They also work locally with fisherman to improve practices. To find out how you can help save the albatross visit

Since albatrosses depend on the wind to fly and sailors depend on the wind to sail, the albatross became a good omen to sailors. The albatross features in a poem about what happened to a sailor when he killed an albatross. The poem is called 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'.

Albatross Medicine
The albatross signifies long periods of time. The breeding and chick rearing process is a lengthy period plus these birds are renowned for their ability to soar for long periods of time. People who have been drawn to the albatross may be seen as dreamers or unfocused, drifting from one focus to the next without a strong commitment. However as they albatross patiently awaits for the right opportunity, they teach us to do the same. Be open and aware of signs and when they come you must act. Once you have found what you need, it can sustain you for a long time, even the rest of your life.

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