Flight of the albatross: around the world in 46 days

An albatross has flown round the world in just 46 days, according to scientists who spent 18 months studying the birds' migratory behaviour.

An albatross has flown round the world in just 46 days, according to scientists who spent 18 months studying the birds' migratory behaviour.

Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey tracked the movements of 22 grey-headed albatrosses to shed light on where they go in the winter months that they spend away from their breeding colonies off the coast of South Georgia in the south Atlantic.

Some of the birds - mostly females - travelled a relatively modest few thousand miles out to open sea but some of the males went much further, and several made a complete circumpolar navigation. One male albatross flew more than 22,000 kilometres (13,670 miles) around the southern hemisphere in just 46 days. Three birds were tracked flying around the world twice in 18 months.

Albatrosses are very long-lived - some are more than 40 years old - but they are vulnerable to being trapped and drowned in lines used by fishing trawlers.

Professor John Coxall, who led the study, said the findings would help conservationists trying to protect the 19 out of 21 sub-species of the albatross family that are included on the official "red list" of endangered species.

"By understanding where these birds go when they're not breeding, we can brief governments and fishing commissions to impose stricter measures capable of reducing the number of birds killed by between 75 and 95 per cent, depending on the type of fishery," Professor Coxall said. "The right combination of measures will drastically reduce deaths."

The albatrosses in the study had a small device strapped to their legs that continuously monitored the local time of sunrise and sunset. Scientists were able to estimate the position of the bird to within about 200km.

Before this study there was no information about the wintering habits of the grey-headed albatross. Richard Phillips, a member of the study team, said: "We had no idea that so many birds would go so far, that there would be large differences between individuals and that some would even go circumpolar."

Albatrosses often sleep by landing on open water during the night and they can spend many months at sea without having to return to dry land, he said.

The scientists tagged 47 grey-headed albatrosses but only managed to retrieve data from 22 devices, which weigh about 9 grams and do not interfere with the bird's movements, Dr Phillips said.

Grey-headed albatrosses have a wingspan of 220 centimetres (7ft 3ins). They raise one chick every two years, and it takes about 140 days before the chick is strong enough to fly.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Accessory Fitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Accessory Fitter required. Bristol

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£14000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is very proud of t...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales

£75000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Head of Sales position is offered on...

East15 Acting School: Finance and Contracts Officer

£20,781 to £24,057 per annum: East15 Acting School: The post involves general ...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen