Albatrosses belong to the family Diomedeidae. There are 22 albatross species recognised by IUCN. These are divided in 4 Genera:
- Diomedea (Great albatrosses)
- Thalassarche (Mollymawks)
- Phoebastria (North Pacific albatrosses)
- Phoebetria (Sooty albatrosses)
Albatrosses use their morphologically
adapted wings and large wingspans to travel long distances without using muscles. Instead of flapping the wings, they use specialised gliding techniques to minimise the use of muscles and energy.
The wingspans of Wandering albatrosses can reach up to 3.5 metres (11 ft). This is the largest wingspan of any bird.
An albatross can live up to 60 years and in that life time it would have travelled millions of kilometres.
They attain sexual maturity at around 5 years but usually breed when they are 7 - 10 years old.
Where do you find albatross?
Most albatrosses are found in the Southern Hemisphere: Antarctica, Australia, South Africa, South America.
Only 3 albatross species are found exclusively in the North Pacific (Hawaii, Japan, California and Alaska): the Short-tailed albatross, Black-footed albatross and Laysan albatross.
Waved albatross is an exception that breeds in the equatorial Galapagos Islands and feeds in the South American coast.
What do albatross eat?
Different species of albatrosses have different dietary habits, but like other seabirds they rely almost entirely on seafood. They would feed on:
- Squids, octopus and other cephalopods
- Krill, crabs, shrimps, lobsters and other crustaceans
- In tough times, they can also feed on carrion and zooplanktons
They prey by snapping up food that comes up to the surface of the sea. However, albatrosses can also dive into the water. Some albatross species can dive well below 5 metres deep to get to their food.
What are the main threats to albatross?
Bycatch poses the biggest threat to almost all albatross species. They dive for the fish bait used on longline fishing before it sinks into the sea, get entangled on the hook and drown.
Albatrosses breed on remote islands forming large colonies. However, such spaces are reducing due to the impact of invasive species. Rats prey on the eggs in albatross nests and rabbits can quickly destroy a nesting area with their burrows. Read more about the impact of invasive species on Macquarie Island
, a World Heritage Site in the Southern Ocean.
Albatross chicks choke on our waste. Every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks on the Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean die because they choke or are poisoned by plastics and other human waste that their parents mistakenly feed to them. The work of photographer Chris Jordan chillingly illustrates the results of this plastic diet on albatross chicks
(images may be disturbing).