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Albatross Surfs the Wind

Dynamic soaring!

This Laysan Albatross, with a wing span of about seven feet, is completely at home in the vastness of the open ocean. It glides up and down, back and forth, across the wake, sometimes riding up 100 feet, then coasting right back down near the surface. Its wings stay slightly arched, but don't seem to flap. Through a marvelous feat called "dynamic soaring," this Laysan Albatross uses differences in wind speed.

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Transcript: 

BirdNote®

An Albatross Surfs the Wind

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote!

[Sound of wind and waves]

Today, we’re standing near the stern of a ship sailing the North Pacific. The wind must be blowing 25 knots. [Continued sound of wind]

We’ve been watching an albatross flying in our wake for over an hour. It’s an inspiring sight – this large bird with a wing span of about seven feet is completely at home in the vastness of the open ocean. It glides up and down, back and forth, across the wake, sometimes riding up 100 feet, then coasting right back down near the surface. Its wings stay slightly arched, but I don’t think they’ve flapped even once! [Sound of wind and waves]

So how does this work? How can it stay with us without flapping its wings?

Through a marvelous feat called “dynamic soaring,” the albatross knows how to use differences in wind speed. Due to friction with the waves, the speed of the wind close to the water’s surface is much slower than it is higher up. One scientist explains it this way: “An albatross, by dropping from the upper to the lower wind layer, or by rising from the lower to the upper, can gain forward speed equal to the difference in speed between the two air layers.” In a series of sinuous loops, the albatross surfs the wind. Miraculous isn’t it! [Sound of wind and waves]

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.

###

Ambient sounds by Kessler Productions
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org     August 2017     Narrator:  Michael Stein

ID# 082806dynamKPLU    albatross-02b
Reference quoted: Haley, Delphine, editor. Seabirds of Eastern North Pacific and Arctic Waters. Seattle: Pacific Search Press, 1984, p. 32.

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