Journal of Navigation

Albatross Long-Distance Navigation: Comparing Adults And Juveniles 1

Susanne Åkesson a1 and Henri Weimerskirch a2
a1 Department of Animal Ecology, Lund, Sweden. Email:
a2 Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Villiers en Bois, France

Article author query
akesson s   [Google Scholar] 
weimerskirch h   [Google Scholar] 


Albatrosses are known for their extreme navigation performance enabling them to locate isolated breeding islands after long-distance migrations across open seas. Little is known about the migration of young albatrosses and how they reach the adults' navigation and foraging skills during the period of immaturity lasting several years and spent permanently flying across the open ocean. We tracked by satellite telemetry the dispersal and migration of 13 juvenile wandering albatrosses from the Crozet Islands during their first year at sea. The young albatrosses covered an average distance of 184,000 km during the first year, restricting their dispersal movement to the unproductive and low wind subtropical Indian Ocean and Tasman Sea. The juveniles initiated the migration by an innate phase of rapid dispersal encoded as a fixed flight direction assisted by southerly winds towards north and northeast. Thereafter each individual restricted its movement to a particular zone of the ocean that will possibly be used until they start breeding 7–10 years later and return in contact with breeding adults. This dispersal in young birds corresponds well with movements observed for adult non-breeding wandering albatrosses. The results show clearly an inherited ability to navigate back to already visited areas in young wandering albatrosses. The juvenile dispersal behaviour and migration at sea suggest a genetically based migration program, encoding navigation to a destination area used throughout the life.

Key Words: Migration; Wandering albatrosses; Diomedea exulans; Bird navigation.


1 This paper was first presented at RIN 05, the 5th quadrennial conference on Orientation and Navigation in Birds, Humans and other Animals which was held at the University of Reading between 6–8th April 2005.