Why Are Albatrosses Splitting Up?

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Albatrosses truly embody the term ‘love birds’.

Once the monogamous seabirds find their other half, the pair will lovingly mate for life.

But heartache is on horizon for these smitten creatures because a new study has found that they’re breaking up at much higher rates than ever before.

And the reason behind the relationship breakdown isn’t a new hunk on the scene – it’s climate change.

The Love Story Of Albatrosses

Albatrosses are some of the most loyal partners in the animal kingdom.

They live for up to 60 years and their intimate relationships have similarities to human romance.

After their awkward teen stage, they use dancing as a way of flirting with a potential partner, then they select their soulmate and fall in love.

Albatrosses in relationships spend most of the year apart and return home to their significant other each breeding season.

When they reunite, it’s a loud celebration and they perform a dance that becomes more synchronised over the years they’re together.

Francesco Ventura is a Ph.D. student at the University of Lisbon who studies albatrosses in the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina.

He says the dance can be a little awkward at first, but as their relationship grows, the quality of the performance gets better and better.

Normally, only 1-3% of albatrosses will experience heartbreak, but a new Royal Society study has found that they are breaking up at rates 5 times higher than usual.

The Report On Heartbreak

The study looked at a wild population of over 15,000 breeding black-browed albatrosses in the Falkland Islands during a 15-year period.

Usually, albatrosses divorce when they’re unable to reproduce together.

If a pair fails to produce a chick during mating season, they’ve got a higher chance of splitting up.

And food shortage doesn’t help either, because it places stress on the birds’ ability to reproduce.

But what the study found was that even when accounting for food shortages, it’s actually warmer temperatures that’s causing a spike in breakups, even when a pair successfully creates a chick.

The Silent Homewrecker: Climate Change

Rising water temperatures have big impacts on seabirds.

A warmer ocean surface results in less food, smaller schools of fish and creates a harsher environment.

Which means that albatrosses are being forced to hunt for longer periods and fly much further for food.

It also makes it more difficult for baby chicks to survive and all these factors crank up the birds’ stress hormones.

Researchers predict there could be two reasons why warmer waters are causing divorce.

The first is that when they’re flying further away for food and don’t make it back in time for breeding season, their partner might have moved on to a new love interest.

The other is that the female may misinterpret the high stress from environmental factors as poor dance performance.

Albatross performance anxiety truly is in a league of its own.

Ventura – who led the new study – said that “climate can surprise us in so many ways… so we need to understand that there are things that are well beyond our current understanding and that things might get surprisingly bad”.

Luckily, even with the spike in breakups in the Falkland Islands, the seabirds should be okay.

But Ventura is worried that other albatross populations might not be so lucky.

Albatross enthusiasts hope this new study will bring awareness around how climate change is impacting our seabirds and spark action to save the precious love birds.