10 facts about Albatrosses

Antipodean albatross
© Findlay Cox / DOC
Fascinating Facts

Albatrosses are known for their incredible wingspans and flying ability. New Zealand is a true hot spot for the seabirds, with nearly half of the world's 22 albatross species breeding here.  

Here are some things you might not know about albatrosses.

1. Toroa

The Māori name for albatrosses is toroa. Traditionally Māori have a strong connection to the albatross and particularly valued their white feathers.

2. Mythical birds

Many sea-faring people have myths and superstitions about albatrosses. The idea that killing an albatross will bring bad luck was popularised by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1798.

3. Mollymawks

Medium-sized albatross species are sometimes called mollymawks. This is said to derive from a Dutch word for ‘foolish gull’.

4. On camera

While New Zealand is home to several species of albatross, the only mainland colony is of Northern Royal Albatross at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula. You can watch them up close through the albatross cam.

5. Mate for life

Albatrosses are long-lived, and mate for life. Although spending long time alone out at sea, they always return to the same nesting site and partner at breeding time.

Pair of Antipodean albatross
©Kath Walker/DOC

pair of albatrosses

6. Soaring high

Albatrosses are known for their ability to fly without flapping their wings, and to travel thousands of kilometres in a single journey. They have been observed flying at speeds of up to 127 km/hr and can stay aloft for days or even weeks at a time.

7. Diving deep

Albatrosses are also excellent swimmers and can dive to depths of up to 3 m in search of food.

8. Not so great at the take-off

Taking-off from land can be a bit of a challenge for great albatrosses. Their narrow wings, designed to keep them aloft over the sea, need wind and speed. They need a bit of a runway, preferably with a headwind to get airborne.

9. Threatened

Despite their large size and impressive flying abilities, albatrosses face numerous threats, including habitat loss, fishing bycatch, and plastic pollution.  

10. Conservation efforts 

Reducing the number of albatrosses and other seabirds killed after encounters with fishing vessels is a priority. WWF is working with a number of other organisations to urge Government to strengthen and better enforce bycatch mitigation measures

You can help protect New Zealand's albatross species

By symbolically adopting an albatross you will be supporting ongoing conservation efforts for these precious seabirds.