Albatrosses

“I now belong to the higher cult of mortals,
For I have seen the Albatross.” Robert Cushman Murphy

Wandering albatross

Much to my chagrin and regret I’ve never seen an Albatross. Probably comes from being born and raised on a desert. Albatrosses avoid deserts. Not enough water I suppose. Or perhaps it is the thermals. Albatrosses skim along barely above the surface of the Southern Ocean over which they fly and so would be unused to desert thermals which could shoot them up 15,000 feet in a wingbeat. They would get nosebleeds.

I grew up suspecting Albatrosses were, like the Phoenix, mythical birds. Whoever heard of a bird that could spend almost all its life in flight, not seeing land for weeks at a time. It simply defied belief; like electricity or white zinfandel wines.

Actually, to be precise, I should say that I haven’t seen an Albatross in this lifetime. It is possible that reincarnation, like the Albatross, is for real and that I have been here in earlier lives. If so, I was in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. I would have seen Albatrosses from my ship (I was a Post Captain. Here is one of my ships running before the wind in the Roaring Forties. That is me on the larboard side of the quarterdeck).

Me commanding ship of war
We often sailed in the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties where Albatrosses fly regularly. We needed those consistent winds to get from England to the Far East or to get around Cape Horn and into the Pacific. (We stopped at the Galapagos once, in 1802, as I remember. Remind me sometime and I will tell you some things I noticed about the Finches there.)

The Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties and the Screaming Sixties were the names we sailors gave to the Southern Latitudes where the Westerlies blow almost non-stop. Few land masses exist in those south latitudes so nothing breaks the winds. It is the windiest place on earth. It is also where most species of Albatrosses live.

Wandering Albatrosses, along with Royal Albatrosses, have the longest wingspans of any bird on earth. (Ten feet and longer) Because of their immense wings, which they can lock in place, their metabolic rate is hardly higher when they are flying than the rare times they rest on solid land.

Recent studies have confirmed a thing I noticed back in my Royal Navy days: Males are slightly heavier and have slightly longer wingspans than females. Thus the wing loading (weight divided by wing area) of males is significantly greater than females. This means that males need higher winds to soar. The further south one sails in those latitudes, the higher the winds; which probably accounts for the fact that we saw more male Albatrosses than females the further south we sailed.

Some things are too sublime for words:

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3 Responses to “Albatrosses”

  1. Kelly Deal Says:

    What a great video, thanks for sharing! I hope one day in my lifetime, I will able to see the bird of all birds.

  2. Boring, boring, boring. « The Golden State Says:

    […] elections are saying it. These things are as predictable as the weather, if you have a barometer. In the Royal Navy, we knew that if the glass was rising, the weather was improving. If it was falling, we were in for […]

  3. Mad Bluebird Says:

    The WANDERING ALBATROSS with a wingspan of 11 feet and if youve seen some film where they often crashland and they gave been called GOONEYBIRDS But you must agree how graceful they are in the sky

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