The Wandering Albatross

I am the albatross that awaits you

At the end of the world.

I am the forgotten souls of dead mariners

Who passed Cape Horn

From all the oceans of the world.

But they did not die

In the furious waves.

Today they sail on my wings

Toward eternity,

In the last crack

Of the Antarctic winds.

— Sara Vial

CapeHornThis beautiful poem accompanies the albatross monument that sits atop the headland at Cape Horn which reaches into the Southern Ocean at the tip of South America.  I took this picture of the Horn as I returned from the Antarctic in 2007 on a relatively calm day. The poem conjures a spiritual image for the Wandering Albatross whose  name describes its connection with Nature.

With the greatest wingspan ( 8 to 11 feet) of any bird that lives today, it is a long distance glider and is capable of being airborne for several hours without beating its wings.The in-flight image shown here was captured East of the Tasman Peninsula by J.J. Harris. 

WanderingAlbatrossLiving in the Southern Ocean, it’s range of travel is described as circumpolar as it traverses the skies of the oceanic flow that surrounds Antarctica. One banded bird was recorded traveling 6000 km (over 3600 miles)  in twelve days. The Wandering Albatross spends most of its life in flight, landing only to breed and to feed its young. It is connected to the Southern Ocean’s food chain in that it feeds on fish, squid, and the by-catch and garbage from fishing vessels. It’s connection to land is necessary to mate, breed, and raise its young on places such as South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. The Wandering Albatross is monogamous – breeding with the same partner for life. Both parents help in raising the chick. Breeding takes place every other year. Most eggs hatch in March, and the chicks fledge in December. While one parent guards the nest site, the other makes the long journey to collect food. The  image of a juvenile Wandering Albatross was captured by me at South Georgia Island

It is in the process of foraging for food that the Wandering Albatross is connected to the waysWanderingAlbatrossChick_2 of man. Long-line fishing vessels roam the Southern Ocean with mile-long lines of baited hooks. While searching for food, the Wandering Albatross may happen upon the boat’s hooked bait as the fishing vessel pays out its line or pulls in its catch. The bird, in trying to eat, gets hooked and drowns. In killing the adult bird, the long-liner kills the chick as well because the collected food never gets into the chick’s mouth. Scientists have shown a decline in the population of the Wandering Albatross. This decline is attributed to incidental catch in fisheries, which has reduced adult and juvenile survival. In some studies, it was shown that fisheries were responsible for a 54% decline in the bird population on one island. The threats by mankind on this bird are ongoing. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species categorizes the conservation status of the Wandering Albatross as “Vulnerable”.

Worth Your Extra Attention : Mass killings of Wildlife By The US Government

In my recent forays into “Twitterland”, I came across the excellent reporting of a journalist who has focused on the uninformed (some say irresponsible) mass killings of wildlife by a US federal agency, the USDA Wildlife Services. All of this in the name of good “management”. Tom Knudson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner whose writings are worth your time. Read his 2012 series about the USDA Wildlife Services  . You can also peruse a list of Tom’s writings

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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

6 Responses to “The Wandering Albatross”

  1. I’m concerned that Antarctica is under serious threat from Tourism impact and from commercial exploitation. That as well has a detrimental effect on the wildlife as a whole on the continent. Sad to read in your post about the US Government destroying endemic wildlife. Beautiful poem and great post.

    • Hi Liz:

      The last time I was in the Southern Ocean was in 2007. Previously, I had been there in 2004. At those times (and perhaps things have changed) there was a tight control on tourism. I saw it via the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) who did a marvelous job of controlling traffic on South Georgia Island and other places. They have now shut down more things to tourism since I’ve been thetre including the viewing of Wandering Alabatross. In addition, most or all tour ships who visit the area have voluntarily subscribed to a strict set of environmental rules and guidelines. But again, maybe things have changed. For those who are interested, one might follow the BAS generated monthly newsletter for South Georgia Island at http://www.sgisland.gs/index.php/(h)South_Georgia_News_and_Events

  2. Thank you for sharing Bill! Have you also seen the Midway film trailer? It covers the issue of plastics and wildlife, specifically Albatrosses. It’s something we all need to be aware of.

    http://www.midwayjourney.com/film-trailer/

  3. shannon says:

    The poem touched my heart. Thanks for sharing it.

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