Shy albatrosses more likely to get dumped by mates, study finds

The wandering albatross is known as the most romantic bird on earth

Samuel Webb
Tuesday 20 September 2022 17:58 BST
New Zealand: Watch cute albatross chick get cosy with GoPro camera

The old adage “faint heart never won fair lady” rings true for the male wandering albatross, according to a pioneering new study.

Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) found bold behaviour is key to a lasting relationship among the large seabirds – and claims the study is the first to find a link between personality and relationship outcomes in animals.

An analysis of long-term studies of wandering albatross on Possession Island, part of the Crozet archipelago in the Southern Indian Ocean, found that bolder male birds were more likely to keep their mates when another male attempted to take their place.

Though wandering albatrosses are known to mate for life, this type of “forced divorce” does happen because females are in short supply on Possession Island.

Due to their smaller body size and overlap with commercial fishing grounds, females are more likely to perish while foraging, leading to a high percentage of male widowers.

The study’s lead author, Ruijiao Sun, said: “In instances of forced divorce, bolder individuals are more likely to guard their partner. Shyer individuals tend to avoid risks and engaging in antagonistic interactions with intruders.

“Breeding is very costly to wandering albatrosses. So individuals have to make a trade-off between reproduction and their own survival.”

The wandering albatross is considered a “vulnerable” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Though the authors say personality traits are an accurate predictor of relationship outcomes for wandering albatrosses on Possession Island, they don’t think the same methods could be applied to humans.

“Scientists use different approaches to measure personality in humans,” said Ms Sun.

“We expect shyer humans are less likely to divorce, and we know that risk-taking behaviours are linked to divorce.”

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