Wrestling an Albatross: Podcast 1

Listen to Rosalie’s podcast about an albatross by clicking on the photo.

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, by V. Legendre (Creative Commons)
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross coming in for a landing. Photograph by V. Legendre (Creative Commons)

The haunting epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge has always stuck with me. It’s an 18th century lesson in conservation; a cautionary tale of what happens to a sailor after he impulsively kills an albatross with his crossbow.  His superstitious shipmates subsequently blame him for every misfortune that befalls them, and there are many. As part of his punishment he must wear the dead albatross around his neck.

It wasn’t until I actually saw royal albatrosses flying over Tairoa Head that I fully understood the enormity of the mariner’s punishment. These birds are very very big. Their wings span 3.4 meters and they weigh about 8 kilos.

The albatross is a magnificent, noble bird that can live to be over 50 years old. It travels far and wide and spends long periods at sea. Lightweight satellite tracking devices are allowing scientists to track where they go and some of our Southern Ocean species make circumpolar journeys.

George Edwards’s Natural History of Birds (1747) features an accurate drawing of an albatross beak. This is why you have to wrestle an albatross (gently of course), the point of that beak is razor sharp.
George Edwards’ Natural History of Birds (1747) features an accurate drawing of an albatross beak. This is why you have to wrestle an albatross (gently of course), the point of that beak is razor sharp.

When an albatross comes in for a landing, it’s like a glider plane floating on to a runway…until the bird gets close to the ground and it looks quite comical. Because albatross wings are not built like other birds, they have trouble with a hard landing and do much better landing on water.

Sometimes an albatross crashes on a hard surface. Before Rosalie came to the South Island to run the penguin hospital at Katiki Point, she ran a bird rescue hospital in Wellington: Listen to Rosalie’s podcast about helping out an albatross by clicking on the photo.

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