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Thursday, February 9, 2023

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Posted to Maritime Musings (by on August 14, 2012

Majestic but endangered species of sea birds

The albatross is the largest of all birds in terms of wingspan (up to 12 feet).  It can be found soaring above all ocean waters of the Southern Hemisphere and above the North Pacific.  It is largely absent from the North Atlantic, probably due to loss of habitat.  The albatross has been divided into four genera, each with a number of species.  It is a highly efficient flyer, soaring great distances with little effort.  The albatross is one of the few birds with a shoulder-lock, which is a sheet of tendon that locks the wing in place when fully extended, thus allowing the wing to be kept outstretched with no further use of the bird’s muscles.  It feeds primarily on squid and krill, but will eat almost anything small that it finds on or in the water.  This diet causes significant problems for modern albatrosses as there is a lot of indigestible plastic floating in the sea.  The birds are ungainly on land, earning the name gooney bird.  They nest mostly on remote oceanic islands.  They mate for life.  The breeding season can last one year or more, with one egg each time.  The adults generally take turns caring for the egg or fledgling and hunting.  A major threat to the breeding sites is the introduction of predatory species such as rats or feral cats.  The life span of an albatross is up to 50 years.  Most albatross species are currently endangered.  The albatross is the central element of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Due in large part to the popularity of the epic poem, there is widespread belief that sailors believe it highly unlucky to harm or kill an albatross.  Prior to the publication of the poem (1798), sailors regularly caught and ate the birds, which served as an excellent source of protein.  Few humans any longer hunt albatrosses for anything other than bird-watching.

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