Stephanie Prince reveals how an albatross researcher’s life becomes inevitably and irreversibly intertwined with the lives of their subjects and outlines her plans for the future.

From the moment I first saw my first albatross back in 2012, my career has been inextricably linked with them. Falling in love with albatross was the first step, but through my work monitoring the population levels of these birds, and seeing first hand the steep declines they are facing, I was from then on committed to doing something about it. After cutting fishing hooks from albatrosses’ faces and removing fishing lines and nets from the island so they don’t entangle any other animals, there was really nothing else I wanted to do than be the voice for these precious birds.

Steph recording ring numbers of nesting grey-headed albatross

I spent 16 months living and working just on Bird Island for the British Antarctic Survey, every day spending hours in the field, just me and the albatross. When I returned to the UK after almost three years on South Georgia, I started work in the RSPB’s Albatross Task Force who work to save albatrosses in fisheries in South America and Southern Africa. After a year I then moved onto working with Asian fisheries doing the same thing, and I am now project manager for a suite of projects all working to save the albatross. Since Bird Island I’ve managed to see more albatross in New Zealand, and most recently on Midway Atoll which is home to over 600,000 pairs of albatross - I was part of a team that counted every single one.

Wandering albatross chick

Being with the albatrosses for the whole of the breeding season is an incredible journey to witness - from an egg being laid and the parent birds sitting patiently for two months, to a tiny fluffy chick emerging from the egg, and all the way to a smart young bird fledging almost 12 months later. At one time, I had a particular wandering albatross that was really special. Every time I would go to his nest to check his egg, he would start preening my hair with his beak - I don’t think he approved of my hair style at the time! It was such a special experience sitting amongst the colony having an albatross treating you like one of the family. I could have stayed there forever.

I’ve been really lucky to have already spent years living with albatross on South Georgia, and more recently to have gotten married in an albatross colony in Hawaii, and then spent six weeks honeymoon on Midway Atoll - home to a staggering number of albatrosses nesting on every bit of ground (including right outside my bedroom window!). I’ve still not seen all the species though and high on my list would be seeing the albatross of Gough Island in the middle of the Atlantic. The Critically Endangered Tristan albatross lives there and is currently under threat from invasive mice that kill the chicks. Plans are underway to remove the mice and secure a future for the species. I would love to go to the island after the mice are gone to see first hand the increase in breeding success of the birds, which I’m sure will happen.

This is the second of Stephanie’s two-part blog series. Read the first part here.

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Albatross Stories is funded by the Darwin Initiative, South Georgia Heritage Trust, and Friends of South Georgia Island.  

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