Ocean Currents » albatross http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 28 Apr 2017 22:26:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Exploring the Remote Midway Atoll http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/02/exploring-hawaiis-midway-atoll/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/02/exploring-hawaiis-midway-atoll/#comments Fri, 02 Sep 2016 13:00:29 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12761

Just last week, President Obama announced that he will quadruple the Papahānaumokuākea Hawaii Monument—creating the world’s largest protected marine area. At 582,578 square miles, Papahānaumokuākea will be nearly four times the size of California and 105 times larger than Connecticut. This is huge news for the endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, sharks and more that call this uniquely biodiverse seascape home.

Nicholas Mallos, Director of our Trash Free Seas program, traveled to Papahānaumokuākea in 2010 to see first-hand the beauty—and the dangers—in this spectacular ecosystem.

Setting foot on land more than 1,000 miles from your nearest neighbor, one might suspect to find themselves in an unspoiled environment with little or no sign of human presence. Unfortunately, on Midway Atoll, this is not the case. Part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Midway is at the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago, roughly equidistant from Asia and North America.

Midway is truly “out there.” The atoll’s nearest population center is Honolulu, which is 1,311 miles to the southeast and a five-hour trip by plane. Having reviewed the literature, perused the photos and watched the films, I thought I was prepared for my 2010 research trip to the Atoll. But I was not.

Lying literally in the middle of nowhere, Midway is a beautiful and deeply surreal place, mystical and transformative. At night, Bonin petrels, small nocturnal seabirds, flock the skies in the hundreds of thousands, emitting shrieks eerily synonymous with their avian counterparts in Alfred Hitchcock’s, “The Birds.” During the day, petrel shrills are replaced by the relentless chatter of more than one million Laysan and black-footed albatross. Midway is the largest nesting colony for Laysans and the second largest for black-foots. Offshore, the roar of the ocean is equally sonorous with a monster swell that breaks over the atoll’s fringing reefs.

Seventy years ago, Japanese and U.S. military forces pummeled these islands with artillery during the Battle of Midway, one of the most important naval battles of the Pacific Campaign of World War II. But despite decades without troops or thunderous artillery, these islands remain endangered by a far more persistent threat manufactured by humankind: plastics.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands act like a filter in the North Pacific, ensnaring large amounts of drifting fishing gear and debris on its fringing reefs and sandy shores. The daily accumulation of large debris on Midway’s shores—almost entirely plastics—threatens the monk seals and sea turtles that haul out on its beaches and forage in the atoll’s shallow waters. With only 1,200 monk seals remaining, the loss of even a single animal can substantially impact the species. Entanglement in debris and ingestion of plastics is also a serious concern for Hawaiian green turtles, a subspecies that is genetically distinct from all other green sea turtles found throughout the world.

But seabirds, most notably albatross, incur the greatest impact from plastic debris. Each year, approximately 4.5 tons (nearly 10,000 pounds) of plastics are brought to Midway not by currents or wind, but in the stomachs of the birds themselves. Mothers and fathers forage at sea for weeks in search of fish eggs, squid and other prey in hopes of nourishing their newly hatched chicks that wait anxiously hundreds or even thousands of miles away. All too often, adult albatross return to Midway and regurgitate offerings more reminiscent of a convenience store than that of a natural albatross diet. Plastic bottle caps, cigarette lighters, fishing floats and great quantities of plastic fragments are now part of the albatross diet. Unlike their parents, Laysan chicks do not possess the ability to regurgitate; once consumed, these plastics are often fatal to chicks through a variety of mechanisms including starvation, stomach rupture or asphyxiation.

I witnessed the unintended consequences of plastics on Laysan and black-footed albatross firsthand during a two week stay on Midway in 2010, where my colleagues and I completed a preliminary assessment of plastics’ impacts on marine wildlife. Trekking around the islands, it was impossible to avoid plastics—colorful shapes and sizes speckled the ground while other types of plastic protruded from the guts of recently perished albatross chicks.

By analyzing the stomach contents of a deceased chick found lying on the old airstrip amid the sprouting grass, I further deconstructed the plastics-albatross relationship. Finding a specimen was not difficult; hundreds of options were available on that same runway. The stomach contents of my single albatross included nine plastic bottle caps, two strands of dental floss, one five-inch orange fishing float, 103 miscellaneous plastic pieces, six pumice stones and 60 squid beaks—the latter two items being the only naturally occurring components of a Laysan’s diet. While this was only a single sample, the total mass of the synthetic stomach contents was roughly 100 grams, about the same as a quarter-pound hamburger.

The magnificent albatross on Midway Island are more than just birds. As part of our natural world, they are an object lesson in how we are treating our planet. Albatross, along with the other inhabitants of Midway, are the recipients of the collective impacts of the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that permeates our global society. While I have been fortunate to visit these animals in this far off world, one need not travel to Midway to witness the persistence and proliferation of marine debris. The ocean plastics crisis is just down the road or over the nearest sand dune.

Take a moment to say mahalo (thank you) to President Obama for creating the world’s largest protected marine area.

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Five Animals to Get You Excited for Spring http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/03/17/five-animals-to-get-you-excited-for-spring/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/03/17/five-animals-to-get-you-excited-for-spring/#comments Thu, 17 Mar 2016 11:00:35 +0000 Katie Green http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11689

March 20th marks the first day of spring, but sometimes the weather can make it a little difficult to identify the true beginning of the season. Luckily there are some other signals that the warmer months are coming up. Marine animals of all kinds, from seabirds to giant whales, can be great identification tools for spring. To celebrate this change, we are telling the stories of some amazing marine animals who are known for signaling this season. If you weren’t already excited for some warmer weather, here are a few of the incredible behaviors exhibited by marine animals during this time of year to get you in the spring spirit.

1. Bowhead Whales

Bowhead whales are easily identifiable by their large, curved heads. During their spring migration, they break up the sea ice with their thick skulls in order to clear their path and have room at the surface to breathe. Beginning in March, western bowheads make their way back to the circumpolar Arctic through the Bering Strait. Up to 11,000 bowhead whales swim this narrow passage each spring to prepare for the warmer season. The narrowest point of the Bering Strait is only 55 miles wide making bowhead migrations heavily concentrated and absolutely amazing.

2. Leatherback Sea Turtles

Leatherback sea turtles are the largest sea turtle species in the world. These giant marine reptiles can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and grow to be seven feet long. In the spring, female leatherbacks begin to return to their birth places to lay their eggs. This springtime journey is just part of their migration each year. Depending on where each turtle is born, their annual migration can vary anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 miles! Leatherbacks have the widest range globally due to their ability to retain and generate body heat. Unlike many other sea turtle species, leatherbacks can handle the cold. Their migration pattern and breeding habits makes these turtles some of the best travellers in the ocean.

3. North Atlantic Right Whales

North Atlantic right whales are considered one of the most endangered large marine mammal in the world. With only about 300 remaining in the wild, a sighting of these whales is rare at best. North Atlantic right whales migrate north during the beginning of the spring. They will spend the warmer months up north in cooler waters. Summer and early fall months are especially busy for North Atlantic right whale moms as they feed and nurse their calves. These whales give birth in the late winter/early spring then shortly after begin their long travel with their newborn calves.  North Atlantic right whales only give birth to one calf every few years. Their spring home is along the northeast coast of the United States. Learn more about the critical habitat of the North Atlantic right whale by exploring the Northeast Ocean Data portal’s interactive map.

4. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Atlantic bluefin tuna are a highly migratory fish species. They are experts in travelling long distances. Atlantic bluefin tuna have well-developed circulatory systems making them warm-blooded and excellent swimmers. They migrate for two reasons, either to spawn or to seek food. Atlantic bluefin tuna work their way towards the Gulf of Mexico in preparation of spring spawning. Their spawning season usually starts in mid-April and ends in May but Atlantic bluefin tuna begin making their way for spawning beginning in March. The schools of Atlantic bluefin tuna headed for the Gulf of Mexico is another incredible signal of spring.

5. Black-footed Albatross

These seabirds don’t migrate during the beginning of the spring season but they do experience more movement during this time of year. In the late fall and winter, black-footed albatross remain on the coasts incubating their eggs for about 65 days. Come spring, they take turns chick-sitting and getting food. Black-footed albatross can be seen during this part of the year leaving their cozy coastal nests and going out to sea to provide food for their newborn chicks. Both parents (who mate for life) will take turns starting in March to go retrieve food to feed their baby. These birds are dedicated parents and partners.

These are just a few of the amazing species that show us spring is near. See more fun facts about all kinds of animals on our social media accounts. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to learn about the marine animals you love and to stay up to date on all things Ocean Conservancy!

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5 Animal Couples to Fall in Love with this Valentine’s Day http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/11/five-animals-couples-to-fall-in-love-with-this-valentines-day/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/11/five-animals-couples-to-fall-in-love-with-this-valentines-day/#comments Thu, 11 Feb 2016 17:15:25 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11467

Photo: Credits (clockwise from left): Christopher Michel/Wikimedia Commons, Barry Peters/Wikimedia Commons, Hjalmar Gislason/Wikimedia Commons, user: prilfish/Flickr Creative Commons, JJ Harrison/Wikimedia Commons

It’s that time of year again: Stores are overflowing with pink and red decorations, jewelry advertisements are everywhere, and people are snatching up heart-shaped boxes of chocolate for their significant others (or themselves… no judgment).

We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the season of love than by highlighting the most amorous ocean animals. So we pulled together some examples of romance in the animal kingdom to get you in the Valentine’s Day spirit.

Whether you’re coupled up or flying solo this Valentine’s Day, here are five species who are redefining #relationshipgoals.


Writer Noah Strycker puts it best: “There’s love, then there’s albatross love.” Most of these birds mate for life and are incredibly dedicated to their partners. They also take courtship very, very seriously: They can spend years learning the right mating rituals to attract the perfect mate. Once albatross encounter their potential partners, they will engage in an elaborate dance that involves tapping their feet close together, pointing their beaks at the sky, extending their wings and calling to the sky. An albatross can engage in a few dances before deciding on their partner, but once they are matched, they will stay faithfully by each other’s side until death.

Strycker sums it up: “[Albatross] just might have the most intense love affairs of any animal on our planet.”


Monogamy is uncommon in fish, but these guys defy the odds: French angelfish form monogamous bonds that can last the fishes’ lifetime. These fish ascribe to the philosophy that there’s strength in numbers—they are almost always seen in pairs, and work as a team to defend their territory against predators and competitors. They even are seen hunting, traveling and sleeping together. Apparently “personal space” isn’t something that applies in those relationships.


For Atlantic puffins, finding a mate is a marathon, not a sprint. Puffins will wait up to six years to find a mate, and stay faithful to their partner when they finally settle down. Puffin dads are very attentive and share parenting and egg-incubating duties. They are also creatures of habit, and often return to the same burrow with their mate every year to raise their young.

Puffin pairs are sometimes seen “billing,” or rubbing their beaks together. This can draw a crowd of other puffins to “share in the excitement.” This motion looks like the puffins are kissing, which leads to a whole new definition of the phrase “love birds.”


Seahorses have one of the most unique mating practices in the ocean. Although they do not mate for life, seahorse pairs remain faithful during the mating season. Potential mates will court for many days, performing “dancing rituals” like mirroring the other’s movements and swimming side-by-side in unison. And here’s what is so unique: Once they mate, females will place up to 1,500 eggs in a small pouch on the male’s body. They will stay secure with the male for 45 days before emerging, with the females checking on her mate and the eggs daily. Leading male seahorses to be nominated for “Dads of the Year,” every year, forever.


Penguins may not all be monogamous, but they are champs at wooing potential mates. Different species of penguins charm partners in different ways, including building nests, calling and braying and presenting mates with gifts. Male Gentoo penguins will scour the beach to find the smoothest, most perfect pebble to give a potential partner. If the female penguin approves of the offering, she will put the pebble in her nest, signaling that the relationship can move forward. Other species will engage in elaborate displays of trumpeting, head-swinging, flipper-flapping and bowing to show their affection. Because who wouldn’t fall for a spectacle like that?

Have any great animal love stories we missed? Tell us in the comments below! 

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How to Protect Endangered Albatross http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/09/how-to-protect-endangered-albatross/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/09/how-to-protect-endangered-albatross/#comments Wed, 09 Dec 2015 14:30:59 +0000 Corey Ridings http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11199

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has some exciting news for seabirds: Streamer lines are now required in the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery! Break out the squid and champagne! Ok, just kidding on the champagne, but as a species that often mates for life, the short-tailed albatross knows something about romance.

This final rule means that fishing vessels 55 feet or longer now require streamer lines to deter seabirds from becoming hooked or caught in fishing line, and that the endangered short-tailed albatross—along with other West Coast bird species—is now better protected. The rule was recommended by the Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2013 due to the impact the Pacific groundfish fishery has on the albatross, whose population size is an estimated 600 nesting pairs, significantly down from historical numbers in the millions.

The survival of this species is threatened by multiple stressors, including changes in food concentration and location, contact with fishing vessels and plastic debris. A paper released in 2013 showed high levels of interaction between the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery and the albatross; the albatross, unable to see hooks or fishing line, can accidentally ingest the hooks or become entangled in fishing line.

Streamer lines, used widely in Alaska with high rates of success, were naturally part of the solution. They are relatively low cost and easy for fisherman to use, and were shown to significantly help keep albatross away. In fact, they are already being used voluntarily by some fisherman in the fleet.

Here’s how they work: Bright orange tubing is vertically suspended from a line above the water. The birds are startled by the color and movement, and the baited hooks are safe as they go into the water. This keeps the birds from getting entangled in the fishing line or encountering a hook. Bait is preserved and fishing line remains untangled, making life easier for fisherman and bird alike.

NMFS’s action finalizes a good example of how science, good management, and fishermen initiative can allow low-tech, inexpensive equipment to put a major dent in a real problem. Seabirds face many uncertainties as their environment changes, but this final rule gives them a better chance for survival, and hopefully many more years of winged romance.

For more about the short-tailed albatross’ amazing recovery, please see an inspiring story by our colleagues at Audubon.

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Local Boston Theater Raises Funds and Awareness for Ocean Conservancy http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/26/local-boston-theater-raises-funds-and-awareness-for-ocean-conservancy/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/26/local-boston-theater-raises-funds-and-awareness-for-ocean-conservancy/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:03:39 +0000 Brett Nolan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9940

Photo: Debbie Morey

The Poets’ Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has put on nearly 50 performances of its show Albatross, based on “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ocean Conservancy supports efforts to protect all marine life, including sea birds like the albatross, so a partnership with The Poets’ Theater seemed natural. We even have an albatross in our logo!

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem that tells the tale of a lost sailor and his crew who are helped out of the Antarctic by an albatross. Despite the aid, the mariner kills the giant bird. The mariner then loses his entire crew, suffers great storms, and even faces manifestations of death as punishment for his crime against nature. The mariner is cursed to forever tell his tale as warning to others. Albatross follows the immortal mariner’s travels 300 years later in the year 2015.

Benjamin Evett, the one-man show’s star and cowriter, wanted this epic story about the sea to support Ocean Conservancy’s efforts. Online and at the end of every performance, he asks audience members to donate to the Poets’ Theatre and to Ocean Conservancy. Despite Boston being blanketed by several feet of snow, they’ve managed to find an audience and raise both awareness and funds for Ocean Conservancy.

To Benjamin, this is a timeless story that has as very powerful message about how people treat the natural world. “It’s a play about thoughtless actions. The mariner’s punished as an example of how important it is to be mindful of all living things.”

The Poets’ Theater seems to be as immortal as the mariner himself. It was first established in 1950 to give poets a stage to share their craft. A fire forced its doors shut a dozen years later. Nearly 25 years after that, the theater was resurrected in 1986 and continued until 2004. Albatross ushered in a new era for the theater last September.

Albatross’ life may prove to be just as long. Benjamin hopes to take the show on the road and perform in various other cities.

If you’d like to see Albatross before it soars away from The Poets’ Theater on March 1, click here for tickets!

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“Midway” Film Answers Plastic Pollution Question “Why Care?” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/12/midway-film-answers-plastic-pollution-question-why-care/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/12/midway-film-answers-plastic-pollution-question-why-care/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 13:20:57 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6633 albatross chick

Photo: still from Chris Jordan’s “Midway”

Midway Atoll is truly “out there.” The closet population center is Honolulu, 1,200 miles to the southeast and a five-hour trip by plane. But despite its remoteness, Midway is not immune to the impacts of plastic debris.

Midway’s central position in the North Pacific Gyre makes it a sink for debris, which results in immense, daily accumulations on the island’s sandy beaches. This collection of debris—almost entirely plastics—threatens the endangered monk seals and sea turtles that inhabit Midway’s beaches and forage in the atoll’s shallow waters. Plastics that threaten the 1.5 million Laysan albatross on Midway, however, arrive in a different manner.

Each year, approximately 10,000 pounds of plastics are brought to Midway not by currents or wind, but in the stomachs of the birds themselves. Mothers and fathers forage at sea for weeks in search of fish eggs, squid and other prey in hopes of nourishing their newly hatched chicks that wait anxiously hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

All too often, adult albatross return to Midway not with nutrition from the sea but instead plastic bottle caps, cigarette lighters, fishing floats and colossal quantities of plastic fragments that float adrift in the North Pacific Ocean. Albatross chicks do not possess the ability to regurgitate; once consumed, these plastics often become fatal.

I witnessed the unintended consequences of plastics on Midway’s albatross firsthand in 2010, when my colleagues and I examined the impacts of plastics on the island’s fauna. Trekking around Midway, it was impossible to avoid plastics—colorful shapes and sizes speckled the ground while other types of plastic protruded from the guts of recently perished albatross chicks.

These lifeless forms rested only steps from the nests where their parents had diligently nurtured their newly hatched chicks; it was a stark reminder of the fine line between life and death on Midway Island.

Words alone do not suffice to accurately convey the severity of the impacts of plastics on Midway. Fortunately, Chris Jordan’s recent documentary, “Midway,” brings the sights, sounds and firsthand encounters with the concurrent beauty and distress of Midway to concerned citizens around the world.

Through stunning natural splendor and chilling visual testimony, “Midway” singlehandedly answers the plastic pollution question, “Why should we care?”

Perhaps an even more important question is “How do I help?” Join me and more than 500,000 other concerned citizens around the world on Sept. 21 to remove unsightly, unnecessary and destructive plastics from our beaches and waterways during the 28th annual International Coastal Cleanup.

There is one ocean. And that means even if you never travel to Midway, you can help ensure that the potentially harmful bottle caps, lighters and myriad other plastic debris items littering our beaches and waterways never arrive there either.

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“Midway” Film Tells Story of Plastics in Our Ocean Through Plight of Albatross http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/28/midway-film-tells-story-of-plastics-in-our-ocean-through-plight-of-albatross/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/03/28/midway-film-tells-story-of-plastics-in-our-ocean-through-plight-of-albatross/#comments Thu, 28 Mar 2013 20:23:35 +0000 Sarah van Schagen http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5307

MIDWAY : trailer : a film by Chris Jordan from Midway on Vimeo.

Artist Chris Jordan is best known for his large-scale images that deconstruct huge numbers while making a statement about our mass consumption habits. For example, the tiny pieces of plastic in “Gyre” represent the pounds of plastic that enter the world’s ocean.

Jordan’s latest project, “Midway,” is a feature-length film that expands on the plastic pollution problem by focusing on the plastic fragments that fill up albatross stomachs as they try to feed in the open ocean. Scientists estimate that 4.5 metric tons of plastic arrive on Midway Atoll every year in the stomachs of the albatross.

The trailer includes some disturbing images of dead and dying birds, but as the narrator says, “Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time and allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us and our future?” We can only hope the answer is “yes.”

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