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Albatross

Albatross soaring

Image: David Osborn

Albatrosses are amongst the biggest birds on the planet. The wandering albatross has a wingspan of 3.5 metres - that's more than three times your arm span.

They spend almost their whole lives at sea, mainly in the southern oceans. They even sleep on the ocean and they travel great distances. One grey-headed albatross was once recorded flying the whole way round the world, in just 46 days.

Albatrosses feed on fish and squid, which they catch from the surface of the water. Once albatrosses pair up, they stay together for life and only return to land to breed. They lay just one egg a year - a big white egg that would fill your hand if you held one. They only lay one egg at a time because they can only gather enough food to keep one chick alive.
Once the chick has hatched, the parents take turns to find food for it. Albatrosses may fly thousands of miles to catch enough squid and fish, leaving its partner and chick - sometimes for days.

Threats

These amazing birds have been around on the planet for a hundred times longer than human beings, but soon they may all be gone. They are facing a terrible danger out at sea. Albatrosses are being killed by a kind of fishing called longline fishing. Longline fishing boats use fishing lines that can stretch for 80 miles into the ocean. Each line carries thousands and thousands of hooks baited with squid and fish. These boats are trying to catch tuna and swordfish, but they also catch other creatures by accident.

Albatrosses are attracted to the bait and become caught on the hooks, dragged below water and drown. Right now, an albatross is killed at sea about every five minutes.

Why save them?

So many albatrosses are killed that they can't breed fast enough to keep up. This means that 18 out of the 22 albatross species are headed towards extinction. Soon there may be none left.

What is being done? What can you do?

The RSPB is helping put together a team of people who will go out onto the fishing boats and teach fishermen how to catch fish without catching albatrosses. The team is called the Albatross Task Force. Right now, there are 15 people in it and they operate in seven countries. We know this works. Thanks to this work, we have seen the number killed in some areas drop hugely.

How do you catch fish without catching albatrosses?

Streamer lines - streamers attached to a line that trails from the back of the boat work like scarecrows in fields, scaring albatrosses away from the deadly hooked bait.
Extra weight - putting extra weights onto the fishing lines makes them sink faster out of the reach of the albatrosses. 

Find out more about albatrosses by visiting: http://www.savethealbatross.net