Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre mourns loss of Royal albatross

By Lindy Laird -
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The royal southern albatross seemed on the mend when Robert Webb put it through a pre-flight test just over a week ago. Photo/Michael Cunningham
The royal southern albatross seemed on the mend when Robert Webb put it through a pre-flight test just over a week ago. Photo/Michael Cunningham

The flags have not been lowered to half mast but the Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre is nevertheless mourning the loss of a royal resident.

The young southern royal albatross that has been cared for by centre manager Robert Webb and staff since it was found near Baylys Beach (Ripiro Beach) on January 9 has died.

Mr Webb said the big bird had seemed to be doing well but started to go downhill last Friday. Mr Webb, who had opted to stay on hand that evening, said the bird had been lethargic all day and died soon after midnight.

"You never know with birds, they can be fine one minute and then go, just like that," Mr Webb said. "With big seabirds, you never know whether they have been blown in by a storm out at sea or because there's something wrong with them."

Mr Webb said many people had come to the centre to see the bird.

Had the southern royal albatross - scientific name Diomedea epomophora - survived it would have been taken back to its landing place to be released.

It was taken into the centre by fisheries officers who found it sitting in the sand, exhausted and covered in sand.

Albatrosses are very buoyant and can live for years on the ocean without making landfall, but encounter problems and lose buoyancy when their feet touch the sand below the water.

Mr Webb thought the albatross was a young male. Its wingspan was 2.3 metres, whereas an adult southern royal can be over 3m, and it was fairly docile (a male trait).

It was probably headed toward the sub-Antarctic when it encountered turbulence. There had been reports of two or three dead albatrosses found on Ripiro Beach, Mr Webb said.

The carcass is being stored in a Department of Conservation freezer while Mr Webb investigates having it mounted by a specialist bird taxidermist and then displayed at the centre.

In March 2003, a wandering albatross, given the name Albert Ross, stayed a couple of weeks at the centre after having crash-landed at Ruakaka Beach during a storm. An albatross blew in and was cared for at the centre in the summer of 2004, and another brought in after landing on Ripiro Beach, near Glinks Gully, on Christmas Eve 2005.

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