The wandering albatross, with an adult wingspan of 10 to 11 feet, is the largest and most spectacular of the world's approximately 360 kinds of flying seabirds.
There are 13 species of albatrosses, and nine of them breed on remote oceanic islands found in the southern hemisphere.
The wandering albatross is white with grey-black wings. It has a large hooked bill and, as an adult, will weigh around 16 pounds. They spend most of their life in flight and are rarely seen on land. Once a year they do gather on land in order to breed. They will sometimes float on the sea's surface though the position does make them vulnerable to aquatic predators. Their source of drinking water is the sea.
However, they have evolved a physiological mechanism for getting rid of the excess salt they consume.
They roam widely over the oceans and, being magnificent gliders, they are able to cruise for hours on end with hardly a flap of their very large wings. Because they are so large and spend most of their life in flight, the wandering albatross has few natural predators. They can live to be over 50 years of age.
There are some 25,000 living in the world today. They are found around all of the world's oceans except for the North Atlantic.
At breeding time, they head for some remote island, often the same one where they were hatched. Adults tend to mate for life, but each year they will still go through a special song and dance routine to attract and entice their mate to breed. They form large colonies using a nest made of mud and vegetation placed on an exposed ridge near the sea.
The nests are often less 3 feet apart since, but this crowding has the advantage of providing some protection against predatory seabirds that like to plunder their nests. The female lays only one egg in the nest and both parents take turns sitting on it until it hatches. Once the chick is born the adults switch off between hunting food and staying to care for the chick.
Their preferred diet consists mainly of squid, small fish, and crustaceans, but they can often be seen scavenging scraps from fishing boats. The latter has turned out to be a real problem for seabirds in general.
As the demand for food increases, numerous countries are increasingly fishing the seas around the world. Unfortunately, practices such as trawl fishing, gillnet fishing, and longline fishing are causing devastating losses to seabird populations as a by-product of the fishing industry.
Countries, companies, and individuals are overfishing our waters as well as ignoring rules and regulations that are designed to sustain a healthy fishing industry. The global population of seabirds has dropped by nearly 70 percent since monitoring began in the 1950s.
Larrie Stone is a retired Dana College science professor.