Albatross: Their World, Their Ways


The magic and misfortune of the world's greatest migrating bird.

Albatross are best known for their enormous wingspan and global migrations. They are also the subject of intense scientific scrutiny. Recent DNA studies have revealed that there may not be just 13, but 21 to 25 albatross species. With all but two of them endangered, the albatross may disappear just as we are discovering more about it.

Tui De Roy and Mark Jones set out in a 43-foot...

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The magic and misfortune of the world's greatest migrating bird.

Albatross are best known for their enormous wingspan and global migrations. They are also the subject of intense scientific scrutiny. Recent DNA studies have revealed that there may not be just 13, but 21 to 25 albatross species. With all but two of them endangered, the albatross may disappear just as we are discovering more about it.

Tui De Roy and Mark Jones set out in a 43-foot sailboat to cross the world's oceans in search of the albatross. They weathered storms, finally arriving to camp on barren landfalls, where they studied and photographed these fascinating birds. Albatross features the very best writing and research on these extraordinary creatures. The book includes a breathtaking photographic portfolio, a series of essays by leading experts, and a natural history section with detailed information on each species.

Along with commentary on the authors' adventures, topics include:

  • Size and population distribution
  • Biology and recent DNA discoveries
  • Food and reproduction
  • Breeding sites and courtship behavior
  • Albatross in exploration, exploitation, myth and legend
  • Migratory routes and the mysteries of migration
  • Conservation threats and status.

Albatross is an impassioned, authoritative and richly illustrated study of a magnificent creature.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of the British Ornithologists' Union - Richard A. Phillips
By De Roy and others is [this] visually stunning, exemplifying a "coffee table" book of the highest print quality and including over 400 exceptional photographs of albatrosses and their habitats.... The passion of De Roy for albatrosses and her commitment to promoting their conservation is emphasized literally from start to finish, from the Foreword by HRH Prince Charles, a well-known champion of the cause, to the exhortation on the back cover to give support at the RSPB/BirdLife International Save the Albatross website.... The style throughout reflects the unreserved and undiminishing delight of De Roy in her many encounters with wildlife and wild places.... This book is a visual feast, and so absolutely packed full of spectacular images that it deserves a place on the shelf of anyone with even a passing interest in these spectacular birds and their habitats. - Grant McCreary
Large, beautifully produced [and] has fantastic photography... enjoyable and comprehensive... Particularly exemplary and...the best book of its type that I have come across.
Essays and photos galore on a bird that can live more than 60 years and journey 9,000 miles to find food for its young.
Booklist - Nancy Bent
[starred review] All 22 species of albatross are in trouble to one degree or another, losing their lives to longline fishing hooks or from eating ocean-borne trash. To bring [the albatrosses'] plight to the attention of the public, wildlife photographer De Roy authored this magnificent volume. With commentary from scientists, local residents, and even a former poacher, all aspects of albatross biology and conservation are touched upon. A profile of each species is included, and a list of the best places to view albatrosses is appended. The only popular book on these birds—highly recommended.
One thing is certain; no one who reads this book can fail to regard this family as special.... Consistently beautiful and awe-inspiring, I found myself amazed anew with every page turned. The book's large size and unique layout allows the pictures to be reproduced in the size and quality that they deserve.... The species accounts in family books such as this are usually sparse, have tiny pictures, and are of limited value. Not so here. These are full of good information and add greatly to this book.... I would say that this is the best book of its type that I have seen. It favorably compares to the albatross account in the Handbook of the Birds of the World, and even surpasses it in some aspects (which is about the highest praise that I can give). It is a highly recommended addition to anyone's birding library.
[A] magnificent book about a magnificent bird.
Marine Ornithology Journal 38: 13-1397 - Robert M. Suryan
A reader's first impression of Albatross: Their World, Their Ways comes from the stunning photographs of these magnificent ocean wanderers gracing the cover and throughout the book. Obviously taken with an eye only a seasoned professional photographer would have, the photos not only portray each species of albatross and its environment, but often do so under the most enhancing of background light, producing strikingly brilliant images. Beyond the photographs, the authors and expert contributors describe the natural history, ecology and conservation of albatrosses along with the scientific investigations and adventure behind obtaining much of this knowledge.... For those who have not yet been so fortunate to see albatrosses in the wild, this book will provide as close of an encounter as possible without finding them on a remote island — or, better yet, on the high seas where albatrosses are best observed in their element.
Emu, Journal of the Roayl Australiasian Ornitholog - Roger Kirkwood
First, I should introduce this book as a 'must have' on the coffee table of any seabird enthusiast. Its spectacular cover photo and manageable...size will draw passing glances from beverage-sipping guests and, on return from your first comfort break, it will have been nosed through and gasped at. Another languishing mind will be converted to the bright side: albatross are magnificent and this book shows it. Primarily, the book is a collection of stunning photographs. But there is more. There is a great attention to detail in this successful effort to produce 'the albatross bible'..... A dazzling introduction to albatrosses.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781554074150
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 9/12/2008
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 9.50 (w) x 11.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Tui De Roy is recognized internationally as one of the world's great wildlife photographers. She has written and illustrated numerous highly acclaimed books on subjects that include the Andes, the Galápagos, Antarctica and New Zealand.

Mark Jones is a writer and photographer. His most recent collaboration with Tui De Roy was New Zealand: A Natural History.

Julian Fitter is a writer and conservationist, and the co-author of Wildlife of the Galapagos.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Foreword HRH Prince Charles
Map of Global Distribution of Albatross
Saving Albatrosses Around the World
Introduction Carl Safina

Part One: Spirits of the Oceans Wild Tui De Roy
1 Storm Riders of the Southern Ocean: The Wanderers
2 Racing Royalty: The Royals
3 Travellers of Wind and Wave: The Black-Brows
4 Dynamic Wings and Painted Bills: Grey-headed, Yellow-nosed and Buller's
5 Down Under Specials: The Shy Tribe
6 Enigmatic Elegance: The Sooties
7 North Pacific Survivors: The Northern Albatrosses
8 Under the Tropical Sun: The Galapagos Albatross

Part Two: Science and
Mark Jones
9 Perspectives: Albatrosses and Man through the Ages Mark Jones
10 Flagship Species at Half Mast Rosemary Gales
11 Albatross Flight Performance and Energetics Scott Shaffer
12 Do Wanderers Always Return? Michael Double
13 Albatross Populations and Migrations: From Observation to Application John P. Croxall
14 Indian Ocean Albatrosses: A Status Report Henri Weimerskirch
15 Waved Albatross David Anderson
16 Short-tailed Albatross: Dandies of the Deep Greg Balogh
17 Circumpolar Royal Travellers Christopher J.R. Robertson
18 Buller's Albatross Paul Sagar

19 Chatham Albatross Paul Scofield
20 The Plight of the Albatross on Tristan da Cunha Conrad J. Glass
21 Southern Seabird Solutions Trust: Conservation through Cooperation Janice Molloy, John Bennett, Caren Schroder
22 The Albatross Task Force: A Sea Change for Seabirds Ben Sullivan
23 South American Perspective: Fisheries Mortality Marco Favero
24 Conserving Magnificent Flyers: A Personal Journey with Southern Albatrosses John Cooper
25 Applying Spatially-explicit Measures for Albatross Conservation David Hyrenbach
26 Conversation with an Ex-High Seas Poacher Tui De Roy

Part Three: Species Profiles Julian Fitter
Introduction to
Albatrosses, Mollymawks and Gooneys
Species Profiles

Where to See Albatrosses
Glossary: Selected Terms and Abbreviations
Further Reading

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HRH Prince Charles

Albatrosses are iconic creatures, a flagship species for the conservation of the oceans as a whole, just as rhinos, pandas and tigers have become for the land. They are extraordinary, almost mythical creatures, with their enormous wingspan, great longevity and remarkable powers of ocean navigation and travel, almost transcending the very concept of what it means to be a bird. I remember so well when I was in the Royal Navy standing on the deck of a fast-moving warship in one of the Southern oceans, watching an albatross maintaining perfect position alongside for hour after hour, and apparently day after day. It is a sight I will never forget, and I find it unthinkable that we could extinguish them for ever, never to be resurrected. But unless action is taken, that is exactly what will happen.

The plight of the albatross should remind us of the ultimate fragility of all the migratory species that mark the great cycle of the seasons and the mysterious, inner unseen urge that compels such creatures to follow, with unerring accuracy, the timeless patterns of movement around this globe. But they are now dependent upon the whim of man — either we can choose to do something to save them, or stand by and let them disappear. If we allow this to happen then I, for one, think we would sacrifice any claim whatsoever to call ourselves civilized beings. We will have violated something profoundly sacred in the inner workings of Nature, and future generations will never forgive us.

Carl Safina, adapted from Eye of the Albatross

The spirit who bideth by himself
In the land of mist and snow
He loved the bird that loved the man
Who shot him with his bow.

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (part of which is quoted above), the sailor who kills an albatross is compelled to wear around his neck the evidence of his crime against nature. Even two centuries ago, the bird symbolised beneficent companionship, harmed only at our peril. Coleridge, who never saw an albatross, sensed that here was a seabird with power enough to convey a universal cautionary tale. We sense it still.

Coleridge was not the only person who felt the symbolic power of albatrosses. Even scientists repeatedly freighted the birds with metaphor and meaning, draping them with everything from heroic virtue to fear and foreboding. Thus the genus name scientifically denoting most albatrosses is the Latin Diomedea. Diomedes was one of Homer’s war heroes. During one campaign he so offended the goddess of wisdom, Athene, that in retribution she beset his fleet with a terrifying storm. When, rather than acting contrite, some of his crew further taunted the goddess, she transformed them into large white birds, ‘gentle and virtuous’. The genus of dark-plumaged sooty albatrosses, Phoebetria, derives from the Latin, phoebetron, an object of terror, and the Greek phoibetria, a prophetess or soothsayer. Exulans, the wandering albatross’s specific name, means ‘out of one’s country’, thus to live in exile. That may be how the mariners on multi-year voyages who saw them felt. But the albatrosses themselves were always quite at home.

In the metaphors we make of the creatures of the heavens and the deep, we often project our imagery, imbuing them with our own reflection. But the world is more than a colouring book of shapes for us to fill in. When we perceive metaphor in reality we enhance our understanding of ourselves. But when we install meanings instead of seeing reality, we miss all the true texture and inherent value, like a child doodling over a great masterpiece. Loading up an albatross with our own symbols is a bit unfair — unfair to the animal, who suffers the bias of impressions we’ve created, and unfair to us; we miss the expansive opportunity of knowing other creatures. Why force albatrosses to wear humans around their necks? Sometimes an albatross is simply a bird. When we see that, worlds open.

These immense creatures we call ‘albatross’ are the greatest long-distance wanderers on earth. Big birds in big oceans, albatrosses lead big, sprawling lives across space and time, travelling to the limits of seemingly limitless seas. They accomplish these distances by wielding the impressive — wondrous, really — body architecture of creatures built to glide indefinitely.

An albatross is a great symphony of flesh, perception, bone and feathers, composed of long movements and set to ever-changing rhythms of light, wind, water. The musicality of an albatross in air derives not just from the bird itself but from the contrapuntal suite of action and inaction from which it composes flight. The creature drifts in the atmosphere at high speed, but itself remains immobile — an immense bird holding stock-still yet shooting through the wind. Just as individual notes become music by relationship to other notes, the bird’s stillness becomes movement by context. Following your travelling ship with ease, watching you, circling stern to prow and back at will, it flies with scarcely a flinch, skimming wave upon wave, mile after mile after mile. Watching it, you invariably wonder, ‘How can it do that?’

Exerting no propelling power of its own over long distances, it is driven by the tension between the two greatest forces on our planet: gravity and the solar-powered wind. The huge bird’s placid mastery of gales never fails to impress mariners distressed by heavy weather. Charles Darwin, in a tempest near Cape Horn while aboard the Beagle in 1833, wrote, ‘Whilst we were heavily laboring, it was curious to see how the Albatross ... glided right up the wind.’ Not far from there a few years ago, in a storm so great it stopped our 270-foot ship for a day, I too watched wandering albatrosses somehow gliding directly into 70-knot winds in hurricane conditions, circling our paralysed ship with surreal serenity, seeming oblivious to the shrieking, spume-filled gusts.

While mariners marvelled at the sheer size and stamina of albatrosses for centuries, the birds’ oceanic travels were impossible to cipher. Where did they go? Sailors speculated, and some came close. Scientists guessed wrong. No one could have fully imagined, because albatrosses exert almost unimaginable lives. In the last few years albatrosses have been tracked by earth-orbiting satellites, and their true travels outdistance all previous conjecture.

During their whole lifespan they expend 95 per cent of their existence at sea — flying most of that time. Before maturing, albatrosses remain at sea for years, never alighting upon a solid surface, perhaps not glimpsing land, all the while. Theirs is a fluid world of wind and wild waters, everything in perpetual motion. When they do breed, albatrosses haunt only the most removed islands, hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles from any continent. And even at the most isolated island groups, albatrosses often choose to nest on the tiniest offshore islets, as though they can barely tolerate land at all.

But even living so far from humanity, albatrosses increasingly share a human-dominated destiny. Because they range so far and live so long, albatrosses contend with almost every effect that people exert upon the sea. From the elemental world of wind and water, the albatross’s realm has come to encompass every complexity from fishing boats to chemical alterations to human-caused climate changes. Everything people are doing to oceans, albatrosses feel.

As we’ve entered a new human-dominated era in our planet’s history — from the Holocene into the Anthropocene — albatrosses take on a new metaphorical role: they are one measure of our success; their health is our health, their failure is our failure. No study of nature can now avoid confronting the great changes humans have wrought. Albatrosses ne

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