Worldwide, albatross were once hunted for their feathers, which were then used to make hats. They have the biggest wingspan of any bird, reaching up to 3.5m (11.5ft) and the larger albatross species can spend up to five years at sea.
Tora (in Māori) live over 60 years, they mate for life and sadly some do not find another if their partner dies. In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the killing of a “harmless albatross” dooms the ship’s crew.
While in Dunedin, traveling in a NZ RentaCar and staying in some fabulous cottage accommodation, I visit the award-winning Royal Albatross Centre – for a 90 minute tour. Very handy from my Ngaio Cottage base on the peninsula.
Known as Pukekura in Maori, Taiaroa Head is the place for albatross viewing, interactive marine conservation displays, and historical tours of Taiaroa Head and is one of the local must-visit places.
In Dunedin, New Zealand, it’s owned and operated by the Otago Peninsula Trust, a charitable trust, whose objective is the protection and enhancement of the Otago Peninsula – the only mainland place in the world to view Northern Royal Albatross in their natural habitat. This site is ideal as its very windy – giving them good flying conditions.
The first record of a nest and egg here was in 1920 but because of predators (cats, rats, stoats, ferrets) and interference by people, it wasn’t until 1938 that the first chick was successfully fledged. In 2007 the 500th chick hatched – well done to their guardians. A 7-month old chick weighs about 11kg while its parents are only 8 or 9! No wonder they need to fly at speeds of around 120 ks to get out to sea, find food and get back to feed the quickly growing chick.
This is my 3rd time here and for the first time I understand why we can only see them from behind glass: it seems they are very noise sensitive so keeping us invisible and quiet ensures they’re not disturbed by our “ohhs and ahhs” of delight!
Worldwide all 22 species of albatross are in trouble; eight are critically endangered, nine are classed as vulnerable and the remaining five are likely to become endangered, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Sadly the birds are inadvertently caught by fishing boats that use baited long lines and it’s estimated that this kills more than 100,000 albatrosses a year – about one every five minutes.
More of my Dunedin stories to come will be about penguins, boat trips, settlers museum, heritage city walks, the Taieri Gorge train, Chinese gardens, butterfly house and the Orokonui eco-sanctuary and more, adding to those already written. (Sign up to get them as emails as soon as they’re published – top right on this page)