Gliding over the waves, this handsome bird appears effortless while surfing the wind and feeding from the wild seas off the southern coast of Argentina. We are proud to highlight this beautiful observation by Andy Thompson as our mascot for the Great Southern Bioblitz this year.
The Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) was chosen to represent the bioblitz because it is both a true southern hemisphere local, never being observed north of the equator, but also because it can be seen from the three continents and many of the countries that will participate in the GSB this year.
To celebrate World Oceans Day, let's explore the origin of this photo, and all take a chance to reflect on how we can seek to stop the threats facing marine biodiversity, as human impacts on the world's oceans place this animal and many others under threat of extinction. Here is what photographer and naturalist Andy Thompson has to say about the incredible journey he was on when he made this observation.
This photo was taken on a magical "trip of a lifetime" expedition cruise with Norwegian company Hurtigruten to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsular, in January 2019. This image was taken early on in the trip whilst we were en-route between Ushuaia in Argentina and the Falkland Islands. At one point we came across a large raft of Black-browed Albatrosses actively feeding - hopefully on natural food rather than plastic!
We were blessed with lots of incredible wildlife sightings including whales, seals, penguins and the most amazing close encounters with two species of Albatross. Firstly in the Falkland Islands, we visited a colony of Black-browed Albatross on West Point Island, and having trekked across the island through the tall tussock grass, I came face to face with an Albatross sitting on its nesting platform. I was struck by the sheer size of these birds and the fact that it was prepared to tolerate my presence. It was so close I had to change the lens on my camera, as my big telephoto lens couldn't fit it all in!
My second Albatross encounter was even more special. Having left the Falkland Islands we sailed East for 2 days until we reached the island of South Georgia. Here we were privileged to be able to go ashore on Prion Island, which is to my knowledge the only place in the world where tourists are able to visit a nesting colony of Wandering Albatross.
It really did feel like I was stepping straight into a David Attenborough wildlife documentary. We also learned a lot about the ecology of these majestic birds and the threats they are facing - most significantly due to accidental bycatch from long-line pelagic fishing boats. It was sad to learn that both species are threatened with extinction, and although the population of Black-browed Albatrosses are now recovering, following changes made to fishing practices, the population of Wandering Albatrosses continues to decline, as they are slower to breed, and also more affected by other pressures such as climate change and overfishing.
I certainly came away from my trip with some good photos and great memories, but also a re-kindled passion for nature and a sense of responsibility for ensuring that I try to do my bit to be a better custodian of this world we all share.
Thanks for sharing that amazing story and beautiful message Andy! Happy World Ocean Day everyone!