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Wandering albatross flying over icy seasWandering albatross flying over icy seas The albatrosses are a family of large sea birds. Both "great albatrosses", the wandering albatross and royal albatross, have wingspans of up to 3.4 metres (11 feet)—the largest of any living bird. Their wings are narrow and can lock in one position, enabling the birds to soar on ocean winds for days at a time, using little energy to cover great distances. Albatrosses can go for months without touching land. To feed, they scoop up squid, fish and krill from the ocean’s surface. Albatrosses have strong, hooked beaks, well-designed for catching their prey. They also have large, raised nostrils on the top of their beaks. These help them to sense the direction of smells so that they can locate food in the open ocean.

Buller's albatrossBuller's albatross
A wandering albatross eating a squidA wandering albatross eating a squid


Albatrosses feed on squid, octopus and fish, which they catch by flying low over the water and scooping them up. Sometimes they eat so much that they are too heavy to fly. Then they have to rest on the water until their food is digested.

Wandering albatrosses following a fishing vesselWandering albatrosses following a fishing vessel Albatrosses may follow fishing boats for days at a time, feeding on scraps of fish that are thrown overboard. However, some fishing boats use baited hooks on long lines to catch tuna and swordfish. If an albatross tries to eat the bait, it will become caught on the hook and dragged underwater. Many thousands of albatrosses drown this way each year.

There are more than 20 albatross species. Four inhabit the Northern Pacific; the rest live in the Southern Ocean.

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