Northern Royal Albatross makes a flying visit

Friday’s storm brought an unexpected visitor to Wellington – a Northern royal albatross! There are only around 30,000 of them in the wild and when a female one was grounded in Wainuiomata on Friday the team at ‘The Nest’ down at Wellington Zoo were quick to swoop into action. After a weekend at the zoo she was today released back into the wild at Makara beach. Follow the story on Wellington Zoo’s website.

Photograph of an albatross taken on the Otago Peninsula, whilst on holiday back in March 2005:

albatross

We had a wonderful visit to the Zoo on Saturday evening, for the ‘Savannah Sunset’ evening, where we enjoyed dancing to African drums. Little did we know that an albatross was hiding behind the scenes!

Reading about this special visitor has reminded me of a very short story I did a while back on the tragedy of these beautiful birds getting caught on long-line fishing hooks…

Hooked

‘Birth. Courtship. Death. The colony at The Pyramid sees the full cycle of life. Lately, the courtships are fewer and the deaths greater. The hooks that snare our waters flood our playground with baited temptation. Our menu changes with the warming oceans. The garnish is often an oily poison to exacerbate our ills.

Chatham and I have flown over these waters for many years. We used to romance in the ease of passage. We’d breakfast in New Zealand, stop for lunch in Tahiti and dine in South America. Chatham gliding gracefully on long, out-stretched wings, held high on the current of the wind. I had waited till adolescence to begin my courtship with Chatham. One courtship, to last a long life.

Chatham was now at home, at the colony, caring for our precious chick. As I felt myself pulled down into the deep waters I knew our chick would now be lucky to survive. It was only a matter of time before Chatham grew weak and would have to abandon our offspring to save her own hunger.

I cursed myself for falling for the bait. It was getting harder to secure a natural catch in the ever depleted oceans and my hunger blinded my senses.

As many as three thousand hooks were trailing from the fishing vessel. The hooks floated on the surface of the water before their baited weight dragged them down. Each hook held a tantalising meal of fish and squid, an albatrosses favourite meal. One stolen meal would have got me home before nightfall. But here I was, another statistic, ‘by-catch’.

The fishermen looked on as I plunged to my death. Was there a hint of remorse in their eyes? If only they’d made the bait less tempting; weighting the hooks so they sank quickly out of sight, thawing the bait to make it sink faster, placing ‘Tori lines’ to stream above the long lines and warn my friends and I away.

We come to the shores of Aotearoa – the land of the long white cloud (New Zealand) – to give our young a future, which we hope will be long-lived. But the waters we share with the fishing fleets are no longer a safe haven for us.

My dear Chatham, hear me now. Live long on the wind and through the currents of life. The Pyramid rock of our birth is no tomb whilst there is still the hope of new life. But here, in the deep, weighed down on the end of a hook, the tomb grows. Please Chatham, soar with care over these murky waters and do not be a victim to temptation.’

Nearly half of the 22 albatross species of albatross breed in New Zealand. Seven of those breed nowhere else. Of the 10 albatross species that breed in New Zealand, one is listed critically endangered (Chatham albatross) and one is listed as endangered (northern royal albatross). Five are listed as vulnerable. The Chatham albatross breeds only on one rock stack –The Pyramid – in the Chatham Islands. When not breeding, their range extends across the south Pacific Ocean with many spending their winters in the waters off of Chile and Peru where they are at risk in the coastal longline fisheries. For more Albatross information visit WWF New Zealand.