Vendée Globe 2008: Albatross

Albatross are sea birds — and some of the largest fliers in the world. Most of them are really awkward on land, so they spend most of their time gliding in the air or floating on the water of the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans. (Only three species of albatross live north of the equator.) Because they are always in the air and because of their large wingspan, albatross cover a lot of territory. Some have even been tracked flying up to 550 miles in a single day!

In addition to flying and floating, albatross also hunt squid and schools of fish for food. Because they spend all their time at sea, they drink salt water (which would kill many other mammals!). Albatross have a special type of beak called a “tube nose.” Inside either side of their bill, the birds have long tubes, their nostrils, which help to filter the salt out of the water. The salt then drips back out, which can make an albatross look like it’s crying. Their long nostrils also give them a very good sense of smell, which helps them with their hunting.

Once they leave their nest as young birds, some don’t return to land for up to ten years, when they land to mate and bear young. Albatross tend to mate for life and lay a single egg in a season. Young albatross can take 4-10 months to leave the nest, which is a long time in the bird world.

There are 20 species of albatross, and 19 of them are threatened. While years ago they were prized for their feathers, today it is more the problems of pollution and commercial fishing that harm the birds. When not threatened by manmade problems, albatross can live a long time — some more than 50 years.

Sailors in the olden days considered albatross good luck when they followed a boat, because their presence meant that there was a good wind. So, it’s timely that they have arrived to help Skipper Wilson say farewell to 2008 and to welcome the new year.

You can read Skipper Wilson’s most recent log here.

Albatross (K-12)
This National Geographic resource highlights the albatross and includes an animal profile and fast facts about the bird. There are also links to seabird-themed news articles and photo galleries.

Extinction Near for Albatross, Experts Warn (3-12)
In this National Geographic News article, read about how the albatross is being threatened by longline fishing.

Albatrosses Fly around the World after Mating, Tags Reveal (3-12)
In this National Geographic News article from XPeditions, students can read about a new study that sheds light on albatross migration. Using special tags, scientists have learned where gray-headed albatrosses fly between mating seasons. The finding may aid 19 threatened species.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (7-12) by Samuel Coleridge
This is the text of the most famous poem about the albatross. It is a challenging poem, but teachers may want to excerpt relevant sections for background information for students in a cross-disciplinary classroom setting.


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