Podcast scrapped today as I am out for the day with Bob, swinging about in some very boisteroous ‘sending us Eastward’ seas. Didn’t trust that the phone signal would behave!
We woke up to nasty-looking skies to the southwest, increasing winds from the same direction and a GPS fix showing we’d lost eight nauties overnight. I can’t say I was best pleased.
Having put Bob out to work his magic I looked up to be greeted by my third Sooty albatross of the trip. Definitely worth the eight nauties; I was more than best pleased now. He soared over us twice, so close that were I as tall as my brothers (six footers), I could have stroked the smooth dark feathers of his torpedo body. I couldn’t stop smiling for a long while afterwards – I have seen eight albies in all now (at least three different species) and am never disappointed, always spellbound by watching their mastery over the waves.
Wings locked out into two or three metre aerofoils they head up into the wind for lift, turn and soar down along the wave line, up again as they lose speed and so on, working along the furrows. It looks effortless. The birds always put us to shame out here – but the albatrosses are in a league of their own. They were made for these winds, whereas some of the smaller ones look like they’re careering about the sky kamikaze fashion, or in some time trial for a lunatic aerobatics racing team.
Before I came away I spent some time with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) learning about albatrosses – both their life histories and also their status as endangered species (plural – 22 species). They are long lived birds with long, slow reproductive cycles, meaning that they are vulnerable to external pressures on their population size. Long-line fishing is one such danger wreaking havoc on many seabird populations, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of deaths each year of birds caught on the hooks or becoming entangled in the gear of fishing boats. This is neither good for the birds, and therefore the balance of the ecosystem, nor the fishermen – a bird on the hook is one less fish, is reduced stock, is less money in their pocket and so on.
The work spearheaded by the RSPB and its partners is a beautiful example of a simple programme of change bringing about effective results in reducing this seabird bycatch. Exactly the sort of conservation action I like – where I see the feasibilty and promise of conducting it on a wider scale, and then tangible results. ‘Albatross Task Forces’ work out of various ports round the world, helping fisherman implement simple, cheap methods to deter feeding seabirds from chasing baited hooks or gathering around fishing gear. These include dying the bait blue, setting the lines at night and using ‘Tori lines’ (think flappy streamers at the back of the boat, just as a scarecrow keeps birds off your cabbages/purple carrots etc).
As I said, the methods are easy to implement and improve the haul of fish brought up through reducing the numbers of birds drowned on hooks. Perfect.
While chatting to RSPB scientists both about the distribution of albatrosses throughout the world’s oceans and the fact that all but a couple of the twenty two species are threatened to some greater or lesser degree, I ventured to ask if I would likely see any during my crossing. I left the RSPB HQ hopeful of perhaps one or two sightings if I was lucky. After many weeks spent as an observer on wildlife monitoring boats I know how serendipitous it is to encounter wildlife at sea. So super happy is an Outey who now has eight albies tallied in her sightings book, and truly truly priveleged to behold such a fine specimen of a bird. Thank you Serendipity…
Meanwhile, if you’re interested in finding out more about albatrosses, check out my Green & Blue page for links through to the RSPB sites. Check out the sweet little albatross soft toys too – my Alberto keeps me company on board and I know various readers of this blog have albies in their homes now too.
Here’s hoping for a change in the winds and some more miles to Mauritius…and some more albies…
S, D, Bob & Alberto. Better not leave out the others – and Charly and Spede and Arthur Bear x x
NB The soft Albies make great pets – very well mannered, easy to look after. Just requires hugging.