With a majority of their lives spent soaring at sea, the Laysan albatross is a poster child for energy-efficient flight. Wings spanning up to 7 feet and the use of dynamic soaring allow albatrosses to fly for hours without flapping their wings. Dynamic soaring exploits wind shear, or the variation of wind velocity that occurs above the ocean surface, to increase flight speed. As an albatross flies out of the trough of a wave it is met with increasing wind speeds that boost its kinetic energy and altitude. The bird then switches direction dipping back into the wave trough to repeat the cycle.
For an excellent visualization of dynamic soaring in the Wandering albatross check out “Supernature – Wild Flyers” from PBS.
Megan McElligott is a guest contributor to The Ethogram and a 1st year PhD student in the Marine Biology Graduate Program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She works with Drs. Marc Lammers and Adam Pack to explore the habitat-use patterns of spinner dolphins around the Main Hawaiian Islands with acoustic monitoring.
Alaska Seabird Information Series. (2006). US Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved from https://www.fws.gov/alaska/mbsp/mbm/seabirds/pdf/laal.pdf
On the Sizeable Wings of Albatrosses. (2011). Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Retrieved from https://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=95596&tid=7342&cid=94309