19 species of albatross are endangered.
Image: Shutterstock

The poor albatross has had a sorry lot.  First, people use its name in such unfortunate similes as, “It’s like an albatross around your neck.”  What did the albatross ever do to you?  To make matters worse, 19 of the 22 species of albatross are being threatened with extinction.

The majestic albatross, with a wingspan of up to 11 feet, spends most of its life soaring high above the ocean, only landing to breed and lay eggs.  At present, they are one of the most endangered birds in the world.  Threats to their survival include oil spills, loss of habitat, predators, climate change and eating or getting tangled in plastic or netting.

Humans have really become their main threat.  Albatrosses swoop down to catch fish, krill, crustaceans, octopus and squid.  They either feast on animals on the surface, or they can dive up to 16 feet to catch their prey.  The danger is that they often get caught diving for the bait fish used on “longline” fishing poles before they sink to the bottom.  The birds then drown.

In good times, you can spot an albatross anywhere from Antarctica to Australia, from New Zealand to South Africa, from the North Pacific to the Galapagos Islands.  They are specially designed to be able to soar for miles without stopping.

So, what’s being done to save them?  The WWF has joined forces with Southern Seabird Solutions which “unites fishers, industry, government and WWF in the common cause of saving seabirds by reducing incidence of bycatch.”

WWF also has a program called “International Smart Gear Competition” to come up with actual solutions that fishermen can utilize to fish in an intelligent way and help take care of the ocean.

Finally, WWF and the South African government have created a large marine preserve.  It’s the 4th largest in the world, and it was started in the Southern Ocean covering almost 70 square miles.  Five species of albatross live there.

Do your part by properly disposing of waste so it doesn’t end up in the ocean.  Also, double-check that the seafood you purchase is sustainable.  Everyone will benefit including the birds.