It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
`By thy long beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me ?
With these lines, Samuel Taylor Coleridge begins his haunting tale, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Fair weather blesses the mariner’s voyage at first, and when a storm threatens the ship, an albatross appears along with a warm wind that blows the vessel out of danger. The shipmates rejoice and praise the bird for their salvation, yet the mariner shoots it dead with a crossbow. Punishment for his senseless act falls upon the whole crew, who suffer agonizing thirst and die, blaming the albatross-killer for their fate. Only the mariner survives. He repents at last but is doomed to wander the earth, confessing his sinful disregard for living creatures.
I couldn’t help but think of Coleridge’s verse while reading a recent post about albatross deaths by Charlie at 10,000 Birds. The statistics he reports are grim—100,000 albatrosses are killed each year by long-line industrial fishing. As an outraged (he says “bloody infuriated”) Charlie puts it, “100,000 albatrosses dying every year so that - basically - our supermarket shelves can be stocked with tins of tuna and the world’s restaurants can serve up exotic fish from the southern oceans.”
In Coleridge’s world of poetic justice, the perpetrator of such senseless killing was cursed to wear an albatross as a physical sign of his spiritual burden. Or, in the poet’s words, Ah! Well a-day! What evil looks / Had I from old and young! / Instead of the cross, the albatross / About my neck was hung . Unfortunately, 5-star restaurants won’t be looping albatross necklaces around patrons who order swordfish. Charlie questions the effectiveness of a fish boycott though he (and I) won’t be eating any Starkist with plunder like this going on.
Instead, he urges everyone who cares about these magnificent flyers to support an urgent international effort to modify long-line fishing technology. The campaign, Save the Albatross has developed an excellent website with all the tools activists need to get involved, plus inspiring facts about albatross biology, behavior, and roles in history and literature. You can even get images and buttons like the snazzy one above to alert readers of your website or blog about this conservation crisis. With 19 of 21 albatross species already threatened with extinction, there isn’t a moment to lose.
And if you’d like to learn still more about these birds and their oceanic odysseys, you can’t go wrong reading Carl Safina’s Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival. Safina devoted months to chronicling the expansive movements of one particular Laysan albatross, a female he calls Amelia. In the grand tradition of Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea-Wind, Safina relies on the latest biological research to ground rich imaginings of Amelia’s daily activities and experiences, as she skillfully makes a living from the vast and trackless Pacific. Getting to know Amelia is the best way I can think of to understand what the birds are up against.
Concern for their plight has led Safina to launch his own campaign to reform long-line fishing through the Blue Ocean Institute. Blue Ocean’s “Off the Hook” efforts focus on building relationships with fishermen and studying alternative fishing methods. With efforts like “Off the Hook” and “Save the Albatross,” perhaps a future mariner can spread a tale of redemption and hope as albatrosses strafe the waves, snatching fish from a brimming ocean.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.