A Bittersweet Fly-By – A Royal Albatross Experience by Hannah Giles

In July this year, I explored New Zealand by camper van in the depths of winter, a country in which bird life is unparalleled. Even historically, huge dinosaur-like birds called moa roamed the islands far more recently than you would imagine. My dad has always said if he could be an animal, he would be an albatross and I never really understood the hype, until I saw one up-close and personal in flight. They are unmistakable and majestic, to say they are a big bird doesn’t do it justice, you really have to see one in the flesh to believe they are real.

When you first arrive at the Royal Albatross Center, Dunedin, located on a jagged peninsula, a fascinating talk is given about these majestic birds and their habits. We learnt how adolescent albatross take a ‘gap year’ and fly off from their home out into the big blue, and don’t touch land again for 2 years! Maybe they don’t come back with a new tattoo, a love for yoga or a pair of elephant pants but they seem to ‘find themselves’ all the same. Once in the lookout we had an amazing view of three chicks (which seems the wrong word to describe them, they already look too big to fly never mind be an infant). And then we waited.

Adult albatross go out to sea for days at a time, to find food floating on the surface of the ocean before returning to feed their young. So the center have no idea when one will return, or which one it would be. Our guide was entertaining us while we waited, showing us their tagging system, cameras and giving more information on their feeding habits. We all had our backs to the window while she explained this, when she suddenly yelled “ALBATROSS” and as we spun on our heels the entire window was taken up by a incredible 3 meter wingspan which disappeared just as fast as it arrived. The bird appeared to be circling the center, so we all held our breath and it appeared again, and again, and again. The guide explained that the albatross was trying to slow down to land, their giant wing span means they can reach speeds of 67 mph which makes for a rough, albeit amusing, landing. After a few turbulent and bumpy attempts, using his flipper-like feet to steer, the giant bird finally touched down just over the crest of the hill, where a hungry chick was waiting for dinner.

The sad truth behind this experience was the tub of plastic, passed around the group, taken from the stomachs of deceased albatross. Small chunks of plastic float on the surface of the ocean; and when hunting the bright colors are easy mistaken by the albatross for food. The plastic is ingested, and fed to the chicks. By replacing actual food or sustenance the plastic acts to weaken the bird, among other complicated internal issues, eventually leading to their death. The most shocking of the contents was an entire toothbrush, completely intact, proving the resilience of this synthetic material against the elements. It is heartbreaking to imagine a baby albatross trying to swallow a whole toothbrush, and even worse to think it may die as a result. I was lucky enough to witness this magnificent bird in flight, and it brings me so much sorrow to think they meet their demise for such a trivial reason. So, for the sake of the albatross, and all other sea-creatures and birds, I strive to reduce my plastic consumption and rethink my shopping and travelling habits. And hopefully together we can reduce the plastic-related loss of life for this incredible species.

About the Entry

  • Blogger name | Hannah Giles
  • Site name | Small Green Things
  • Site URL | https://smallgreenthings.wixsite.com/blog
  • Why should someone visit your site? Small Green Things aims to document, and celebrate, the small actions, swaps and changes in habit that we all do to try and make the world a greener place. Inspired by my travels, and the beautiful wildlife and landscapes I saw, there seems like no better goal than to preserve our planet.
  • Entry Number | 38

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