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Wandering Albatross

The wandering albatross is known to many as a bird of ill omen from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but our relationship with these magnificent birds is older and more complex.

With a wing span that can measure up to 3.5 metres in length, it's hardly surprising that the Wandering Albatross has inspired not only awe but a spiritual response from many of us. And whilst Samuel Taylor Coleridge didn't do it any favours when he portrayed the Albatross as a bird of ill omen in his poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, as Brett Westwood discovers in this programme, our relationship with the Albatross is far more complex than this; as we have both caught and eaten them, studied their flight and been so inspired by them, that as one man says "In my next life I'm coming back as a Wanderer". Producer Sarah Blunt.

Available now

28 minutes

Last on

Mon 19 Sep 2016 21:00

Professor Graham Barwell

Professor Graham Barwell
Graham Barwell is associate professor in the School of the Arts, English and Media at the University of Woollongong in New South Wales, Australia. Graham has done extensive research into human cultures and relationhips. His current current research interests are in cyberculture, the pedagogical uses of digital technology, electronic editing and publishing, the early collecting of Polynesian music, especially by Percy Grainger, and animal studies, particularly the cultural impacts of certain birds on human life. He is currently working with Professor Leigh Dale on a new edition of Katharine Susannah Prichard’s novel, Coonardoo. 

He is also author of Albatross in the Reaktion Book’s Animal series, which “examines how people have interacted with the bird over the last two centuries, from those who sought to exploit them to those who devoted their lives to them”.

Dan Gordon

Dan Gordon
Dan Gordon is Keeper of Biology for The Great North Museum: Hancock. He helped put together an exhibition called Spineless, which featured hundreds of specimens from the museum’s natural history collections that are not currently on display, alongside several live specimens including the world’s heaviest stick insect and largest spider.

When not writing blog posts he enjoys birdwatching and brushing up on his insect identification skills.


Bruce Pearson

Bruce Pearson
Bruce Pearson is a painter and printmaker. An artist fascinated by wildlife, he works "out in the wild where the rhythm and restlessness of wildlife and elemental landscapes - and sometimes people as well - interact and overlap creating powerful images and dramatic themes about the natural world and our relationship to it". 

He is also involved with a project called Troubled Waters that raises awareness of the plight of the albatross. He also published a book of the same name, which depicts the beauty of the albatross and its struggle to survive. 

Professor Richard Phillips

Professor Richard Phillips
Richard Phillips is a seabird ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey. His research concentrates on the population, physiological and evolutionary ecology of seabirds, particularly albatrosses and petrels.

Dr Philip L Richardson

Dr Philip L Richardson
Dr Philip Richardson is Scientist Emeritus at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. His research interests lie with the general ocean circulation and its low-frequency variability; Gulf Stream, North Atlantic Current, Benguela Current, equatorial currents, Deep Western Boundary Current, ocean eddies and current rings.

More recently he has been working with radio-controlled glider pilots to see if he can harness their flying capability and the technique of the albatross to develop a high-speed robotic albatross - an unmanned aerial vehicle - that could soar over the ocean on surveillance, search and rescue, and environmental monitoring missions.

Chris Watson

Chris Watson
Additional sounds heard in the programme were recorded by Chris Watson. Chris is one of the world's leading recorders of wildlife and natural phenomena. His unearthly groaning of ice is a classic example of, in his words, putting a microphone where you can't put your ears. Image Credit: Kate Humble

Oliver Yates

Oliver Yates
Oliver Yates is Programme Manager with the Albatross Task Force. The Albatross Task Force is an initiative led by the RSPB for the BirdLife International Partnership and is a major part of the BirdLife International Global Marine Programme.

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