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Voracity of Albatrosses

Lyman Belding
Publication Information
1 (January-February)
From Field and Study

Voracity of Albatrosses

In 1851 I went on a voyage in an Arctic whaling ship, the Uncas. When about sixty miles south of the Cape of Good Hope, we killed a large male sperm whale, tho he took down one of the boats which attacked him before he finally succumbed. A violent gale prevented us from saving all the oil from the whale, before about a week had passed, during which many wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) and other sea birds feasted on the carcass which was along side of the ship. The screams of the albatrosses could be heard above the roar of the waves and the piping of the wind in the ship’s rigging. The albatrosses were ravenous, astonishingly so. The ship’s cook took about a dozen pieces of blubber that would weigh from three to four pounds each, tied a stout string about three feet long to each, then knotted the free ends together and cast them among the albatrosses which were within a few feet of the ship. In a twinkling every piece of blubber was swallowed by a different bird, which upon realizing its predicament would start to fly and turn a somersault, or set its wings deep into the water and back away from the piece of blubber it had swallowed. Their throats are capable of great expansion, tho probably somewhat less so than that of the constrictors.

After the cook had repeated this performance several times he varied the entertainment by substituting about half a dozen pieces of rough triangular firewood for the blubber. These were as bulky as the blubber and as readily swallowed, and then disgorged again.


Stockton, Cal.  

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