The Albatross became an icon of Antarctica in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
In the famous ode, a storm blew the old mariner’s ship south to where it was ‘wondrous cold’, whereupon an Albatross appeared along with ‘a good south wind’ to help them escape the frigid sea.
To his eternal regret, the mariner shot the majestic bird with a cross-bow, an action for which he was doomed to wander Earth forever recounting his tale on the importance of ‘all things great and small’.
A Wandering Albatross is portrayed on our latest Australian Antarctic Territory Series coin. One of more than 22 species, it seems perfectly suited to Coleridge’s story. Like the mariner condemned to wander for eternity, it roams unremittingly across the Southern Ocean from the Antarctic to subtropical waters.
White in colour, the Wandering Albatross has black tipped wings which when fully spread at up to 3.5 metres, represent the largest wingspan of any living bird. This lengthy wingspan allows it to expend remarkably little energy while flying. Gliding effortlessly over the ocean on updrafts of wind, it can travel vast distances, covering several thousand kilometres in just one week.
In fact, this mighty seabird spends the majority of its life in flight, landing only to breed and feed, and will probably fly further than any other bird on Earth.
Known to reach the age of 50 years or more, the Wandering Albatross is also one of the longest living birds in the world – so long, of course, that it does not have the misfortune to encounter the ancient mariner!