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August 2012: Albatross, Falkland Islands

From the Photographer...

Laura C. Williams    

I’ve never really been afraid of heights. That was a helpful trait when taking this photograph. I was scaling the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the sea on Saunders Island in the Falkland Islands. Waves crashed below me while I climbed. I crawled my way into position along the edge of a Black-browed Albatross colony, careful to avoid disturbing nesting birds. I wedged my body between two lichen-covered rocks, lying on my belly, and waited. 

I had a Nikon D3s and a wide-angle lens. The goal was to capture the albatross on its nest with the ocean beyond — the bird in its natural environment. The light was mostly diffuse as clouds covered the sun behind me. I waited (in an awkward and really uncomfortable position) hoping another bird would come gliding along the edge of the cliff toward me. Several passed going in the opposite direction as the minutes dragged by. 

Finally, with a little luck from the photography gods, the sun broke free of the clouds just as an albatross came flying my way. The light was perfect, the flying bird was in a good position, and the nesting bird turned its head in profile. I love it when a plan comes together! 

Albatross are the feathered giants of the southern oceans. They use their 79-94-inch wingspan to glide over the surface of the ocean where they spend the majority of their lifetime. 

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, one sailor’s grim fate was sealed after killing an albatross with his crossbow. We can only hope that life will not imitate art for commercial fisherman are killing more than 100,000 albatross a year using a fishing technique called longlining. Longlining has a high incidental catch rate killing seabirds, turtles, as well as sharks. 

The International Union for Conservation and Nature has classified the Black-browed Albatross as endangered. While the albatross in the Falkland Islands are doing better than other populations, there has been an estimated 67% decline in the world population over the past 64 years. With current plans to increase the longline fishing effort over the Patagonian shelf and Argentina’s refusal to implement measures to prevent incidental catch, the future of the Falklands population is uncertain.

Laura Crawford Williams earned her master’s degree at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Biomedical and Surgical Illustration and has bachelor’s degrees in Visual Arts and Scientific Illustration. She left these disciplines behind in 2001 to become a full-time nature photographer. Her images have been published in The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, Nature’s Best and National Geographic magazines among many others. She and her husband Martin J. Vanderploeg are avid supporters of The Nature Conservancy. 


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