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Team effort gets ship-bound albatross back in the sky

uShaka Sea World aquarist Lesley Labuschagne and uShaka Sea World volunteer Vanessa Brummer just before the stranded juvenile Indian yellow-nosed albatross was released from the NSRI sea rescue craft Spirit of Surfski VI.

uShaka Sea World aquarist Lesley Labuschagne and uShaka Sea World volunteer Vanessa Brummer just before the stranded juvenile Indian yellow-nosed albatross was released from the NSRI sea rescue craft Spirit of Surfski VI.

Published May 14, 2022

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Durban - A container vessel that entered Durban harbour recently clearly didn’t meet aircraft carrier status – a stranded juvenile Indian yellow-nosed albatross was unable to find enough runway on board to take off into the autumn sky.

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A Transnet Ports Authority pilot who brought the ship in from its outer anchorage where the bird had landed, called uShaka Sea World to help rescue the weak and malnourished bird, and the National Sea Rescue Institute took it back out to sea to be released.

Albatross are known for needing a long runway and, once airborne, spend much of their lives in the sky covering huge distances.

This week, after a rest and some TLC, it returned to the skies.

To get the bird far enough out to sea for the release, Durban NSRI sea rescue craft Spirit of Surfski VI was called into action.

The bird species is endangered and threatened by long line fishing and human-introduced diseases.

Water, water, everywhere ... enough for the rescued Indian yellow-nosed albatross to take off from. Picture: Supplied.

About 6.5 nautical miles off-shore, uShaka Sea World aquarist Lesley Labaschagne and volunteer Vanessa Brummer prepared to release the bird.

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Albatross are known to react unfavourably to bright colours, so special arrangements were taken on board when the uShaka duo removed their orange life-jackets and the yellow NSRI helmets, while the NSRI crew applied increased safety measures, said NSRI Durban duty coxswain Paul Bevis.

“The bird was carefully removed from his box to be released.

“Everyone onboard was, as prearranged, very still and very quiet and all that could be heard was the gentle lapping of the sea swells against the pontoons of our craft, which we turned broadside to the wind.

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“Conditions were favourable, with an eight to 10 knot wind. The uShaka team gently threw him up into the air in the hopes that he would catch the headwind that may have given him enough lift to take flight.

“But instead, the albatross simply and promptly landed in the water.”

Bevis said they watched the bird bobbing up and down on the sea swells while he took a good 15 to 20 minutes cleaning and preening himself.

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“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 into the clear blue skies.”

uShaka vet Francois Lampen said he had hoped to equip the bird with a transmitter so it could be tracked for research.

“We desperately tried to find a transmitter, but we couldn’t keep the bird too long,” he said.

The Independent on Saturday

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