Relationship between Whales and Albatross

The albatrosses fly hundreds of kilometers to the open sea to find and catch their prey there. A question that until now is not completely answered is: How do these seabirds localize their prey? Recently a group of researchers recorded through cameras how a black-browed albatross actively followed killer whales to feed on food scraps left by these mammals.

Sakamoto KQ, Takahashi A., Iwata T, Trathan PN 2009. From the Eye of the Albatross: A Bird-Borne Camera Shows an Association between Albatrosses and a Killer Whale in the Southern Ocean. PLoS One 4(10): e7322.

Note the dorsal fin of a Killer whale on the surface and the three black-browed albatrosses attracted to the mammal (Photo Sakomoto in 2009)

Flying around the world in 46 days

The albatrosses are birds that spend their life on the ocean, migrating and eating. However it is not known much about their flight routes. In 2004, a group of researchers discovered that the gray-headed albatrosses can fly round the world in 46 days, including other birds could fly round the world more than once during their travels.

Croxall JP, Silk JRD, Phillips RA, Afanasyev V, Briggs DR. 2005. Global Circumnavigations: Tracking Year-Round Ranges of Nonbreeding Albatrosses. Science 307:249-250.

Migration routes of four gray-headed albatrosses (Croxall Graphics, 2005)

Follow my smell

The albatrosses and petrels have a well developed sense of smell. There are several studies, especially on petrels, where it is shown that these birds can recognize their habitat and find food just be using their sense of smell. They can even recognize their food if it is submerged in the sea (for example submerged seal carcasses). Now it also has been found out that some petrels can recognize and follow the partner smell.

Van Den Hoff, J. & Newbery, K. 2006. Southern Giant Petrels Macronectes giganteus diving on submerged carrion. Marine Ornithology 34: 61-64.


Southern giant petrels (AD) on seal carcasses. Cape Petrel (E) and Wilson's storm petrel (F) feed on particles that emerge from the casing of the seal. (Photos Van Den Hoff & Newbery 2006)

Couple trouble

The albatrosses and petrels are monogamous birds. They have a partner to breed every year. However, there are some exceptions. Researchers found through DNA testing that about 25 % of the born chicks in a Waved albatross colony are not sons of the father there were taken care of. This high percentage was only encountered in this albatross species. The researchers explain that only this species; males forced mating that does not have partners in the colony.

Huyvaert KP, Anderson DJ, hjon TC, Duan W, Parker PG. 2000. Extra-pair paternity in wavedalbatrosses. Mol Ecol 9:1415-1419


Pair of waved albatrosses (Photo Ron LeValley)