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Albatross takes flight after sea rescue with a happy ending in Durban

13 May 2022 - 13:26
The majestic bird eventually took flight after regaining its strength, with help from the NSRI. File photo.
The majestic bird eventually took flight after regaining its strength, with help from the NSRI. File photo.
Image: NSRI

A juvenile Indian yellow-nosed albatross that landed on a ship at outer anchorage offshore of the port of Durban and became “stranded” has been successfully released back into the wild.

National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) duty coxswain Paul Bevis said the NSRI assisted uShaka Sea World with the release on Thursday.

“The sea rescue craft Spirit of Surfski VI was prepared for the mission. A juvenile Indian yellow-nosed albatross had landed on a motor vessel at the outer anchorage offshore of the port of Durban some days ago. These majestic birds require a rather lengthy runway to get airborne and the bird, not having a long enough take-off strip on the ship, had parked itself on the ship which, a few days later, entered the port of Durban,” he said.

A Transnet Ports Authority pilot, who had boarded the ship at sea to guide it into the port, was told about the “visitor”.

“The pilot contacted uShaka Sea World to see if they could assist. Once the ship docked they were met by uShaka Sea World staff who safely captured the bird. The albatross, by now malnourished and weak, was rehabilitated, fed, rehydrated and prepared to be released,” said Bevis.

The rehabilitation process took a few days.

“Once the bird had regained its strength, uShaka Sea World reached out to NSRI Durban to see if we would assist with the release of the bird. The brief we got from uShaka Sea World marine scientists was to try to find other bird life at sea and release the bird at least five kilometres offshore, hopefully near to other sea bird life.

“NSRI Durban duty crew, accompanied by uShaka Sea World aquarists and a volunteer, took the albatross, secured in a box, onboard our sea rescue craft Spirit of Surfski VI and we launched to go to sea. From about five kilometres offshore of the port of Durban, we searched for a while to see if we could find other sea birds around, but failing to find any birds the decision was made to release the albatross,” Bevis said.

At a distance of 6.5 nautical miles offshore, uShaka Sea World aquarist Lesley Labuschagne and an uShaka Sea World volunteer prepared to release the bird.

Seemingly satisfied with his grooming efforts, the bird faced himself into the gentle headwind and, with a few steps on the water and some wing extensions, he gathered momentum and took flight
NSRI duty coxswain Paul Bevis

“Because these animals are known to react unfavourably to bright colours, taking all efforts to alleviate the bird from any stress and in the interest of taking all precautions for its wellbeing and care, Lesley and the volunteer removed their orange life jackets and yellow NSRI helmets, and while under increased safety measures taken by our NSRI crew, the bird was carefully removed from his box.

“Lesley, firmly but gently handling the bird, prepared him to be released. Everyone onboard was, as prearranged, very still and quiet and all that could be heard was the lapping of the sea swells against the pontoons of our sea rescue craft. We turned it broadside to the wind,” said Bevis.

He said in favourable sea conditions, with about an eight to 10 knot wind, Labuschagne and the volunteer held up the bird, facing into the wind, gently throwing him up into the air in the hope he would catch the headwind and give him enough lift to take flight.

“But instead of taking flight the albatross promptly landed in the water. From a safe distance we watched him bobbing up and down while he appeared to take a good 15 to 20 minutes cleaning and preening himself.

“Seemingly satisfied with his grooming efforts, the bird faced himself into the gentle headwind and, with a few steps on the water and some wing extensions, he gathered momentum and took flight.”

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