New Zealand // Dunedin to Stewart Island //

The royal albatross

The majestic albatross, one of the world’s largest seabirds, has long been the subject of reverence and superstition: the embodiment of a dead sea captain’s soul, condemned to drift the oceans forever. A solitary creature, the albatross spends most of its life on the wing or at sea.

Second only in size to the wandering albatross, the graceful royal albatross has a wingspan of up to 3m. They can travel 190,000km a year at speeds of 120kph, and have a life expectancy of 45 years. The albatross mates for life, but male and female separate to fly in opposite directions around the world, returning to the same breeding grounds once every two years, and arriving within a couple of days of one another. The female lays one egg (weighing up to 500g) per breeding season, and the parents both incubate it over a period of eleven weeks.

Once the chick has hatched, the parents take turns feeding it and guarding it against stoats, ferrets, wild cats and rats. Almost a year from the start of the breeding cycle, the fledgling takes flight and the parents leave the colony and return to sea only to start the cycle again a year later.

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