The Albatross - roaming the oceans without a pause.
Albatrosses are among the largest flying birds, weighing up to 25 lbs. The largest species, the wandering albatross, has a wingspan of 11 feet, and can live for 50 years or more.
They feed on fish and squid, which they find in the open ocean and can fly thousands of miles without pause. Their only need to touch land is to nest and raise young.
Albatrosses are unusual in that they lay only one egg. This can take 70 days to incubate, and another 10 months for the young bird to fledge.
For over a year each parent in turn makes frequent trips of up to five thousand miles, for days on end, to bring food back for the hungry chick. This breeding cycle is so energy demanding that a pair of wandering Albatrosses, for instance, can only produce, at best, one chick every two years.
Once fledged, young Albatrosses take many more years to mature to the point when it can mate and produce chicks of its own. These years are spent cruising the southern oceans.
Albatrosses have evolved this long-haul lifestyle, thriving on the wealth of the southern oceans, over millions of years.
But now there is a problem. With so many thousands of birds being killed so quickly by longline fishing, these species cannot reproduce fast enough to make up the numbers lost.
Parent birds are killed, and their orphaned chicks die of starvation. Young birds are killed before they can breed. Populations are crashing, and the spectre of extinction is gathering over these astonishing ocean wanderers.
Is this eleventh hour too late for human beings to stop the tragedy?
Why are Albatrosses so vulnerable?
Albatrosses are exceptionally susceptible to longlining. They can't breed fast enough to cope with the rate at which they are being killed. Other species, with different life cycles, might be able to survive. Why is this so?
Naturally, Albatrosses are long-lived birds, some living up to 60 years.
They only breed once they are fully mature - this can take as long as 12 years.
They only produce one chick at a time, and several Albatross species only breed every second year.
What can be done?
There are ways to stop seabird deaths on longlines, which many fishermen, once they understand what's involved, are keen to adopt. After all, for a fisherman, bait lost to birds is a lost catch of fish. With our partners in BirdLife International, the RSPB is urging fisheries to take practical steps to protect endangered seabirds.
These preventative measures include:
using bird scaring devices to scare birds away from baited lines
weighting lines to make baited hooks sink more quickly
using thawed, not frozen bait (as it sinks more quickly)
dying bait blue, making it harder for birds to see in the water
setting lines only at night, because most albatrosses feed by day
using special tubes to release the fishing lines deep under water
Steps have already been taken. The RSPB and BirdLife partners have campaigned for more countries to sign the treaty, Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels.
This agreement, legally binding on the signatories, requires them to take specific measures to reduce the number of albatrosses and petrels killed by longline fishing. It was finally signed by the UK in April 2004.
Albatross Task Force (formerly Operation Ocean Task Force)
The RSPB and BirdLife are creating an international team of people to work directly with fishermen on shore and at sea.
Fishermen are often unaware of the techniques that can - if used - rapidly reduce albatross deaths. We know that dramatic results can be achieved by people working with fishermen, showing them how to use simple cost-efficient ways of fishing without catching albatrosses and telling them about how albatross numbers are declining.
Although observers are already working on boats to record seabird deaths from fishing, there is a real shortage of qualified at-sea instructors to train fishermen and get something practical done.
There is no coordinated team of such practical people. Albatross Task Force will be that much needed team.
More Facts & Figures.
THE WANDERING ALBATROSS FLIES UP TO 10,000 KILOMETRES (6,250 MILES) TO FIND FOOD FOR ITS CHICK.
ALBATROSSES CHOOSE A MATE AND THEN THEY STICK TOGETHER FOR LIFE. IF THEIR PARTNER IS KILLED, THEY MAY TAKE YEARS TO FIND ANOTHER – INDEED THEY MAY NEVER FIND A REPLACEMENT.
HAVING FLEDGED AND FLOWN FOR THE FIRST TIME, ALBATROSS CHICKS WILL NOT RETURN TO LAND FOR MANY YEARS. IN THE CASE OF ROYAL ALBATROSSES, THIS MAY BE UP TO FIVE YEARS.
19 OUT OF THE 21 ALBATROSS SPECIES ARE THREATENED WITH EXTINCTION.
MOST AT RISK IS THE AMSTERDAM ALBATROSS(CRITICALLY ENDANGERED) WITH LESS THAN 100 BREEDING PAIRS LEFT IN THE WORLD.
Black-browed Albatross.©David Tipling.
You can donate money online to support this urgent work to stop albatross deaths. You can also sign up for a regular e-newsletter with updates on the campaign.
Go to the Save the albatross website to give a donation and find out the latest news from the campaign.
You can help raise even more by sending your used stamps from your post, which the RSPB can sell.
The RSPB can raise money from ALL types of stamps – whether they are used or un-used, UK, foreign or even first day covers. For example, we raise £1.50 per kg for UK stamps and £12.50 per kg for foreign stamps.
Post your stamps to RSPB Stamps, PO Box 6198, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire LU7 9XT. Please do not include any other correspondence to this address.
PLEASE ASK FRIENDS,FAMILY AND BUSINESS COLEAGUES TO DO THE SAME BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE.
THE RACE TO SAVE THE ALBATROSS IS ON AND TOGETHER WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.