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
In the last crack
Of the Antarctic winds.
— Sara Vial
This 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.
A Vulnerable Species
Living 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 ways 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
Why Do I Write These Essays?
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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.