Albatross

Dhruvika writes on sustainable practices in various sectors for BuzzOnEarth. Get in touch with her at dhruvika@buzzonearth.com. Sometimes she reads her emails too.

 

‘Is it he?’ quoth one, ‘Is this the man?
By him who died on cross,
With his cruel bow he laid full low
The harmless Albatross. 

These are excerpts from one of the most influential poems “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by S.T Coleridge. It’s not often when literature comes to life. But sadly, this is the case with albatross, one of the most magnificent creatures on the planet.

It seems quite fitting how in the 18th-century poem, the sailors hung the albatross around the man who was responsible for shooting it and now in the new age, man is again the reason for deaths of thousands of albatrosses across the world.

albatross

If you do not wish to read the mind-blowing facts about albatross, feel free to jump to the next section.

The Majestic Albatross

No, albatross is not a mythical creature but soon could end up being one. The largest bird on the planet, it is the true majestic king of the skies. The species has been around for 64 million years. They usually feed on fish, krill, and squid.

22 species of albatross have been identified by IUCN, all threatened. 3 of them are critically endangered and 5 are endangered.

One of the most amazing characteristics of the bird is that it is a master flyer or more appropriately, master glider. The highly efficient and graceful flight of the bird is a treat to the eyes. The 12 feet wingspan of an albatross is the longest known of a bird. The seabird is capable of traveling 10,000 miles in a single journey and covers the globe in just 46 days without expending almost any of its energy.

albatross

They are airborne birds and can stay on the air without flapping their wings for several days. The basic science behind the fluent flying is that the bird gains energy for flight through wind gradient and the tendons on their shoulder lock helps their wings to stay outstretched without any muscle expenditure. In fact, they spend most of their energy while taking off, landing and hunting on the sea surface.

The seabird is also known to sleep during flight although there’s no scientific evidence of it. Quite seldom they land on the ground, just to breed and feed their young ones.

With the lifespan of around 40 years, the albatrosses mate for life. Although according to the myths, the bird is infamous for bringing bad luck to sailors, there is hardly anything about the bird that doesn’t scream magnificence.

The Plastic Killing the Legendary Albatross

Along with marine life, the ocean plastic is also threatening the flying gladiators. With 15 out of 22 species threatened, 100,000 albatross die every year. Along with rising sea temperatures, the ocean plastic is one of the main causes of death of these seabirds.

The Midway island situated in the Pacific Ocean is home to thousands of albatrosses. The island is littered with plastic trash. The birds swallow floating plastic on the sea surface mistaking it for food and bring it for their chicks to feed on. The chick dies unable to digest the debris. They also puke up the undigested material like bones and trash resulting in a trash-filled island which once was a haven for the majestic seabirds. Trash like bottles, rappers, even toothbrushes was found inside the dead chicks.

albatross
The unaltered stomach contents of a dead albatross chick photographed on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific in September 2009 include plastic marine debris fed the chick by its parents. (Chris Jordan)

The other thing killing the birds is the plastic fishing nets. With highly unsustainable practices in fishing, the fishermen often set plastic nets with small fishes hooked to it. Albatrosses often entangle themselves while trying to feed on the fish bait.

Albatross Task Force (ATF)

ATF was set up in 2006 to save the albatrosses around the world. They work with fisheries and governments by spreading awareness about the threat received to these seabirds due to lack of sustainable practices in fishing. The results are astounding. In Namibia, there is a significant decrease in the accidental killing of albatrosses.

albatross

As seabird regulations come into force, now all the trawl and demersal longline vessels are provisioned with bird-scaring lines. (Check out ATF here)

These efforts do make a difference but they don’t mean a thing if we do not stop littering and clean our oceans. The birds who have been around for millions of years might not survive for a few more. The plastic things you might use once and throw away stays forever in ocean killing millions of lives. This need to be changed. Let’s not carry this albatross around our necks for the rest of our lives. That’s unacceptable!

Photo – Pixabay, Wikimedia Commons, Flickr