One of the world’s most majestic birds, a black browed albatross, with a wing span of almost eight feet, arrived today at the Museum.
The albatross was shipped from the Falklands by British Antarctic Survey, a long standing supporter of the museum. The bird – which has been suspended from the ceiling of the new library – should prove a huge attraction to visitors who will be able to see it close up from above and below – and head on – as they come down the stairs.
“It is a crowning glory of our £3m rebuild of the Museum when we re-open in a few months time”, says Chairman of Trustees, Dr Rosemary Irwin. “the albatross illustrates our key message as a museum – that by inspiring people to explore the natural world, we can help them better understand how to care for it. The albatross is a wonderful symbol of the relationship – good and bad – between humans and nature.”
The albatross arrived this morning after an 9,500 mile journey from the Falkland Islands, accompanied by Trustee Philip Geddes. BBC South Today were in attendance to see the Albatross be un-boxed, prepped and then suspended from the ceiling. A huge team was on hand of Museum staff, particularly Josh from collections who was on hand to ensure the albatross was handled correctly; and contractors from Image Makers who have been installing the new galleries.
15 of the world’s 22 albatross species are threatened with extinction – by drowning as they scavenge behind fishing boats with long lines of baited hooks, or by ingesting plastic from the ocean. An international agreement in 2004 introduced measures to change long line fishing methods so as to attract fewer birds, and these measures are working where applied, such as around South Georgia. Professor Richard Phillips, an expert on albatrosses at BAS says “Evidence from our long term monitoring shows that more is needed elsewhere in the Southern Ocean to avoid the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of birds each year”. Professor Phillips will be talking about albatrosses in the third of this year’s Oates Antarctic Lectures at the Museum in Selborne (7pm on Thursday 22 March 2018.)
Though Rev Gilbert White would never have seen an albatross, he can claim some of the credit for today’s interest in fate of the bird. His book The Natural History of Selborne was published in 1789, and one the book’s most ardent fans was the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who described it as “this sweet delightful book”. Coleridge published his epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1798. This poem is about the killing of an albatross by a seaman leading to disastrous consequences for the ship and its crew. Published in 1798, the poem is widely seen as inspiring the romantic period in British poetry and art, which led to a much deeper interest in the relationship between man and the environment.
Gilbert would certainly have agreed with one of the last verses of Coleridge’s poem:
“He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all”.