Species Profile: Black-browed albatross

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Photo: Ian ParkerPhoto: Ian Parker 

Editors Note: The following is from Issue 20.
“I am the albatross that awaits you at the end of the world. I am the forgotten soul of the perished sailors who crossed Cape Horn from seas all across the world,” states the albatross-shaped monument at Cape Horn, located in the stormy seas below Tierra del Fuego. When a ship is followed by an albatross, says old sailor folklore, it represents both good luck and the soul of lost sailors.
There are 22 species of albatross, and 17 are globally threatened, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). One of the most well-known is the black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris), which live up to 50 years and can be distinguished by dark spots above its eyes, a yellow beak, and a wingspan of up to 2.3 meters (about 7.5 feet) across.
They are wonderous birds that can glide through the air like an airplane without flapping their wings for hundreds of kilometers. Amongst the largest flying birds in the world, they are capable of speeds of up to 110 km/h (68 miles per hour). Most interesting, they can go for years at a time flying over the ocean – only returning to land to reproduce.
About 70 percent of the black browed albatross are found in the Falkland Islands. Small colonies are also found amid the canals and fjords of Tierra del Fuego, where eggs and chicks are threatened by the presence of American mink, an invasive species introduced to Chile in the 1930s.
But the biggest threat to the albatross are from fishing boats, as the birds get caught up in fishing lines and large trawling nets. Once endangered, the good news is that in 2018 the conservation status was changed to least concern (LC). The population is steadily rising with the implementation of preventative measures on ships, like special bird-scaring lines to keep them a safe distance away.