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Greeks, and for the strong objection which may be that there are not and never were they always seemed to evince for the albatrosses at the Diomedean Isles, 200representatives of all other nations. And logists have fixed their seal upon the albathese, the birds of Diomedes, some learned tross as the Avis Diomedea, ever since workers in the remains of antiquity main- science has made the wandering albatross tain to have been albatrosses. But, unfortu- the type of the genus Diomedea. nately, the proof is far from being satisfac- It is amusing to notice into what an adtory; and it is a very great question whether mirable state of consusion even comparathe ancient Greeks and Romans ever saw a tively modern naturalists have led themselves real albatross at all.
in trying to describe a real albatross. A In Aristotle you may look in vain for men- common mistake was to confound it with the tion of an albatross; but Pliny describes a "man-of-war” bird. particular kind of birds supposed to bear Nehemiah Greco, in his catalogue of "The some resemblance to the mysterious bird of Natural and Artificial Rarities," describing ocean.
a certain engraved head and bill referred to “Neither," as the worthy Philemon has it, by Linnæus, flounders about as follows:in his translation of the learned old Roman “The head of the 'man-of-war,' called —“neither will I over passe the birds called also the albitrosse,' supposed by some to be Diomedea, which K. Juba nameth Cata- the head of a dodo. But it seems doubtful. racta. Toothed they are, as he saith; and That there is a bird called the ‘man-ofthay have eies as red and bright as the fire; war' is commonly known to our seamen; otherwise, their feathers be all white." and several of them who have seen the head
And after much more, which it is needless here preserved do affirm it to be the head to repeat, he says:
of that bird, which they describe to be a "Found they be in one place of the world, very great one, the wings whereof are eight and but in one, namely, in a certaine island, feet over. And Ligon ('Hist. of Barbad.), innobled, as we have written before, for the speaking of him, saith that he will commonly tombe and temple of Diomedes, and it lieth fly out to sea to see what ships are coming upon the coast of Apulia. These birds are to land, and so return. Whereas the dodo like unto the white sea mewes, with a blacke is hardly a volatile bird, having little or no cop. Their manner is to cry with open wings, except such as those of the cassoary mouth incessantly at any strangers that and the ostrich. Besides, although the upper come aland; save only Grecians, upon whom beak of this bird doth much resemble that they will seem to faun and make signs of of the dodo, yet the nether is quite of a love and amitie in all flattering wise. A won- different shape.
So that either this is not derfule thing that they should discerne one the head of a dodo, or else we have nofrom another, and give such friendly wel where a true figure." come to them as descended from the race And this is all the exact information the of Diomedes. Their manner is, every day naturalists had about the “albitrosse," as to charge their throats and wings full of was called, so late as the year 1694, when water, and to drench therewith the said Nehemiah—"Fellow of the Royal Society, temple of Diomedes, in token of purifica- and of the Colledge of Phycitians”—wrote tion. Whence arose the fable that the com- thus in his “Museum Regalis Societatis.” panions of Diomedes were turned into these George Edwards, in 1743—nearly half a birds."
century later-gives a very fair description Taking the general original description of the albatross. and locality into account, these remarks on "This bird,” he says, "is big-bodied and the Diomedean birds, whatever they really very long-winged. I take it to be one of the were, apply about as nearly as anything to largest, if not the very biggest water-bird in the common or white pelican, which is the world. By measuring him crossways, strictly confined to the old world, and is from tip to tip of the wings, he measures found in the Adriatic.
near ten feet. The first bone of the wing, But whatever the true Diomedean bird which joins it to the body, equals the length may have been—and the descriptions of the of the whole body, as appears in the skeleton ancients strongly favour the notion that the of one of these birds I have by me.” companions of the son of Tydeus were The confusion made by the old navigators changed into pelicans-however clear it between the albatross and the man-of-war or
frigate bird has doubtless been the cause of soon grow immensely fat. Their voracity even the accepted name albatross being in- | is enormous. correct.
“ One albatross will osten swallow a salThe Spanish and Portuguese mariners mon of four or five pounds weight; but as it called the frigate bird alcatraz. The older cannot take the whole of the fish into its stoPortuguese voyagers appear to have applied mach at once, the tail will often remain out the terms alcatras and alcatros not only to of the mouth. When found in this state of the frigate bird, but to noddies, pelicans, gluttony, the natives knock the too-voracious and other sea-birds. Albatross is, therefore, birds on the head, without difficulty, on the most probably a corruption of alcatraz, alca- spot. It is not for the flesh that the natives tras, and alcatros. Indeed, the corruptions of of those parts kill the albatross, but for the the original word seem to have been un- intestines, which they blow out like a bladlimited among the old voyagers.
der, and use as buoys for their fishing nets. In a description of the Isle of Fernando Of the bones they manufacture tobaccode Lorannah, published in 1624, we read: pipes and needle-cases. Formerly, the New “In this island are great store of turtle- Zealand women used to adorn themselves doves, alcatrarzes, and other fowle, which by wearing pieces of albatross down in the wee killed with our pieces, and found them holes of their ears.” to be very daintie meate."
About the most interesting details conBut, to leave the regions of uncertainty nected with the albatross which we refor those of later and more specific infor- member to have read are those given in a mation, there is no doubt that Linnæus book entitled “Wanderings in New South himself has helped to propagate a good deal Wales,” by Mr. Bennett, and published in of error in his description of the albatross. 1834. Speaking of the favourite latitudes He places its habitat within the Pelagic of these birds, he says that albatrosses were tropics—"intra tropicos Pelagi”—and at the not seen until the ship in which he was Cape of Good Hope, flying very high, and sailing arrived in latitude 36° south, longiliving on flying fish, pursued by the dolphin; tude 5° 18', when several species of the bird with other particulars, drawn certainly not were often about the vessel. This trafrom any actual personal experience of the veller seems to have taken an enthusiastic albatross.
interest in watching the peculiarities of the Dr. Latham records four species of this albatross, and his notes on the subject are remarkable bird. The wandering albatross, consequently valuable. Speaking of their the chocolate albatross, the yellow-nosed general appearance, he says: albatross, and the sooty albatross; and he “When these elegant birds are captured states that albatrosses are very frequent in and brought on board, their sleek, delicate, many parts without the tropics, both to the and clean plumage is a subject of much adnorthward as well as the south.
miration; and the fine snow-white down “Indeed,” he adds, “they are in great which remains after the removal of the outer plenty in the neighbourhood of the Cape of feathers is in requisition among ladies for Good Hope, as all voyagers can testify; muffs, tippets, &c." and not only these, but other sorts also; The spread of wing of the albatross is and from thence in every temperate southern something enormous. The average, from tip latitude."
to tip of the extended wings, is from eight “These birds,” he continues, "are often to fourteen feet. “I have even heard it asseen in vast flocks in Kamtschatka and the serted," says the traveller to whom we have adjacent islands, about the end of June, just referred, “that specimens · have been where they are called great gulls. They are shot of this species, the expanded wings of chiefly seen in the Bay of Penschinensi, the which measured twenty feet across; but the whole inner sea of Kamtschatka, the Kurile greatest spread I have seen has been fourIsles, and that of Bering; for on the eastern teen feet." coast of the first they are scarce, a single According to Professor Owen, the largest straggler appearing only now and then. albatross in the British Museum Natural Food appears to be the main cause of their History Collection would present a span, visits to these desolate regions. When they from tip to tip, of a hundred and twentyfirst arrive they are very lean; but they are five inches, if the wings were fully expanded. the sure harbingers of shoals of fish, and An albatross, however, in Sir Ashton Lever's
museum is said, according to a similar mea- by any accident, the surviving members of surement, to have given thirteen feet. the company immediately proceed to fall
When seizing an object floating on the upon and devour their defunct brother. water, the albatross will gradually descend, Turning from albatross voracity to that with expanded or upraised wings, or some of the lords of creation, it may be acceptable times alight and float like a duck on the to know how the albatross eats. When one water while devouring its food. Then, ele- of these birds is captured and brought on vating itself, it skims the surface of the deck, it looks plump and inviting from a ocean with expanded wings, giving frequent cook's point of view; but, unfortunately, feaimpulses-since the great length of its wings thers predominate over flesh. The quan
prevents its rising with facility from a leveltity of down, the thickness of the integusurface—as it runs along for some distance, ment, and the inflation of the air-cells, make until it again soars in mid-air, and recom- a wonderful deception. Remove them, and mences its erratic flight.
your albatross is very poor picking. But The great difficulty of albatrosses in com- even if there was more of him, we doubt if mencing their flight is to elevate themselves he would ever become fashionable eating. from the water. To effect this object they When sailors, in defiance of the supposed spread their long pinions to the utmost, superstition against killing the albatross, giving them repeated impulses as they run manage to secure one, they generally skin along the surface of the water. Having by it, and soak it in salt water till next morning. their exertions raised themselves above the They then parboil it, throw away the liquor, wave, they ascend and descend, and cleave stew it in fresh water till tender, and then the atmosphere in various directions, with the dish is ready. If at hand, a little savoury out any apparent muscular exertion. The sauce is an additional recommendation. explanation of this facility of flight in the Cook, in his first voyage, speaks with great albatross is curious.
approval of albatross served up in this way, The whole surface of the body in this, as saying—“We ate it very heartily, even when well as most if not all the oceanic tribes, is there was fresh pork upon the table.” covered by a number of air-cells, capable of But, like Mrs. Glasse's hare, you must first a voluntary inflation or diminution by means catch your albatross before you can cook it. of a beautiful muscular apparatus. By this This is generally done by means of a hook power the birds can raise or depress them- and line, and bait of fat pork, thrown out selves at will, and the tail and great length over the ship’s stern. Mr. Bennett gives of the wing enable them to steer in any di- rather an amusing description of the capture rection. Indeed, without some provision of of one of these birds. He says:this kind to save muscular exertion, it would “This individual was caught by getting its be impossible for these birds to undergo wing entangled in a line which was out with such long flights without repose as they a bait attached, as it flew under the ship's have been known to do; for the muscles stern; for though it was too old a bird to appertaining to the organs of flight are evi- take bait, it was not sufficiently wise to esdently inadequate in power to the long cape entanglement in the line. When, in the distances they have been known to fly, and gentlest manner imaginable, we commenced the immense length of time they remain measuring him, he vehemently exclaimed on the wing with scarcely a moment's ces against it, and was declared by all on board sation.
to be a very noisy bird. He was probably The voraciousness of the albatross we an old stager, perfectly well aware of the fate have already alluded to, and this very vul- that awaited him. He received the usual gar predilection takes away a good deal of share of commiseration from the ladies when the poetic sentiment which, thanks to the they understood he was to be dissected, acfamous author of "Christabel,” has been as companied by a request for the down." sociated in people's minds with the monarch Like most of the petrel tribe-for, after of sea-birds. Another unromantic fact is, all, our old friend the albatross is but a giganthat when several species-albatrosses, pe- tic gull, with a dash of the petrel in him trels, and other oceanic birds—are hovering this bird lays only one egg, of a pure round a ship at the same time, no jealous white, varying in weight from fifteen to conflicts ever take place between them; but twenty-one ounces. There is only one inif one happens to come to an untimely end | stance on record where, out of a hundred