Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) ~25 miles offshore near Cordell Bank and Bodega Canyon (photographed 2 September 2012). This species is relatively rare, not being seen on every trip, and with a maximum of 1-3 individuals spotted per trip.
The wingspan is ~2 meters (or ~6.5 feet). Note the dark wings, white head, and large pink bill with gray tip. The Birds of North America account states that "Dark feathers around the eye may reduce light scatter into the eye (Warham 1990)."
The undersides of the wings are primarily white, with broad black edging, wingtips, and variable black patches intruding into the white (see below).
Laysan Albatross breed primarily on Hawaiian atolls, e.g., Midway Island and Laysan Island (for which the species is named). They spend the non-breeding season in the North Pacific Ocean, as far north as the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea.
A few fun facts:
- Laysans don't breed until they're 8-9 years old
- They only lay 1 egg and raise 1 chick per year
- The oldest banded individual (still breeding) was 55 years old
- They primarily eat squid (including flying squid), fish, and fish eggs (including those of flying fish)
Here's one more shot of a Laysan approaching the boat.
I like this view because it inspires thinking about their impressive soaring abilities.
From the Birds of North America account:
"Long narrow wings facilitate “dynamic soaring,” taking advantage of the gradation of wind velocity at different heights above the surface of the water. Slope soaring makes use of the wind deflected upwards from the windward face of a wave (Warham 1990).
The two processes are combined in a spectacular flight sequence, the bird skimming the surface at high speed across the wind, a wing tip often touching the water, then soaring upwards into the wind. At the top of its climb, the albatross banks to leeward and descends rapidly downwind. The sequence is repeated over and over, with only an occasional flap of the wings."