THESE IMAGES ARE FROM A 2008 TRIP TO THE FALKLAND ISLANDS. FOR MORE -- AND QUITE DIFFERENT -- IMAGES, FROM THE 2014 TRIP, CLICK HERE, TO LOOK AT THAT GALLERY.
The Falkland Islands lie in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 400 miles east of the southern tip of South America. The two main islands are East and West Falkland, and there are almost 800 smaller islands. In total, the land mass of the archipelago is about 110 miles square, which is about the size of the State of Connecticut. The present population consists of British citizens, and Great Britain exercises sovereignty, but Argentina claims historic ownership and refers to the islands as “Islas Malvinas.” While most of the population of the Falklands lives on the two main islands, and while the 1982 war between Great Britain and Argentina took place primarily on the island of East Falkland, where the capitol city of Stanley stands, the most interesting places for naturalists are in the less-populated west. About 30 miles north-west of West Falkland Island, on tiny Steeple Jason Island, resides the largest nesting colony in the world of Black-browed Albatross, with more than 200,000 birds. Over 70% of the worldwide population of Black-browed Albatross breed in the Falklands. These magnificent creatures grow up to 3 feet long, 8 feet in wingspan, and 10 pounds in weight, and they can live for more than 70 years. The Black-browed Albatross is considered an endangered species; and, of the 22 species of albatross in the world, 20 are threatened with extinction.
All albatross demonstrate extraordinary flying ability. The structure of their long narrow wings helps them to use the energy of the wind, to soar for days on end, without resting. They flap their wings only infrequently and instead catch updrafts both from the anabatic winds along cliffs and hills and by “dynamic soaring,” by which they purposefully move from one air current to another, always rising. They have the ability to “lock” their wings in place, so that they do not require muscle action to maintain flight, and this makes their flight seem effortless. Albatross have been recorded covering almost 10,000 miles in a single foraging flight!
It is interesting that because of the albatross’ dependence on wind, for its remarkable soaring ability, and because sailors depend on the wind to sail their ships, these animals historically became a good omen to sailors – and it became bad luck to kill an albatross.