The Royal Albatross

(Diomedea epomophora).

Also known by the Maori name of Toroa, the Royal Albatross is amongst the largest of all flying birds, and is the world's largest seabird.

With a wingspan of up to 3.3 meters, this magnificent bird is noted for its perfection of gliding in flight, and spends about 85% of its life at sea, flying up to an estimated 190,000 kilometers a year, searching the southern oceans for food.

The bird is predominantly white in colour with black plumage on its wings which can vary from total coverage to a pattern heavily flecked with white. Its bill is a faint pink while it has whitish feet.

New Zealand has two species of Royal Albatross, the northern and southern. The Royal Albatross breeds mainly on remote coastal islands within New Zealand waters and starts breeding at around 10 years old. Pairs mate for life and each pair raises one chick every two years. It is a remarkably long-lived bird, the oldest known bird was over 62 years old when last seen in 1989, after having been banded as a breeding adult in 1937.
The main diet consists of squid and fish, foods that are also used by commercial fishing operators to catch tuna. With the Albatross being able to glide for days in search of food, it is no surprise that they quickly spot fishing boats and move in to feed on the baited hooks. Seeing the food in the water, the bird will dive and in all liklihood be hooked in the oesophagus, having swallowed the bait. The bird will then be drowned as it is pulled under by the long-line.
With Albatrosses only breeding after reaching 10 years of age, and then only every second year, premature deaths are expensive to the albatros population. The loss of an adult bird often means a chick will not survive with just one parent to care for it. It is estimated that 25,000 seabirds are killed on fishing long-lines each year.

Protection of the Royal Albatross and special breeding programs are helping to maintain the population. Continued work with fishing industries and researchers will hopefully reduce the mortality rates of these ocean wanderers.

Certificate accompanying the 1998 New Zealand Proof Set - Reserve Bank of New Zealand, 1998.

The Royal Albatross is featured on the following New Zealand coin:

1998 $5.

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