lose energy but because wind speeds
are much slower near the surface of
the water, the albatross achieves a net
surplus of energy. So dynamic soaring
enables the albatross to extract suffi-
cient energy from wind shear near the
ocean surface so as to be able to fly in
any direction, even against the wind,
with hardly any effort. As one group
of researchers put it, in a write-up
entitled The nearly effortless flight of
“The bird still has a ‘propulsion
profit’ over the whole cycle that
just manages to overcome drag.
As long as it keeps up that pattern
of dips, swoops, and turns, it can
keep on flying—flying for free.” 5
‘Flying for free’—by design!
The fact that aero-engineers want to
incorporate the ‘flying for free’ lessons
from the albatross in their designs of
drones5, 6 and other UAVs4 points to the
albatross itself having been designed
with the capability for dynamic soaring.
And of course the albatross couldn’t
exhibit this behaviour without also
having the necessary infrastructure.
E.g. along each side of its bill are two
nasal ‘tubes’, thought to be analagous to
the Pitot tubes of modern aircraft which
measure airspeed. 7 Instantaneous accu-
rate information about airspeed allows
the albatross to make split-second deci-
sions on when to turn, etc., necessary to
perform dynamic soaring. Pitot tubes
are in planes by design and so too the
equivalent in the albatross. And just as
the wing-lock systems of naval aircraft
with folding wings were designed,
similarly the wing-lock system in the
albatross. Not to mention the plethora
of other essentials needed for even just
basic flight, 8 let alone the kind of aerial
mastery the albatross exhibits in its
own special zone just above the wind-
blown waves. Who’d have thought that
any creature would have the capacity
to spend much of its life in such a
zone, in such a manner, in areas so
vast and seemingly empty? But as the
O Lord, how manifold are your
works! In wisdom have you made
them all; the earth is full of your
creatures. (Psalm 104: 24)
References and notes
1. Johnston, I., How the unflappable albatross can travel 10,000 miles in a
single journey, independent.co.uk, 17 November 2013.
2. Sachs, G., and 7 others, Flying at no mechanical energy cost:
Disclosing the secret of wandering albatrosses, PLOS One 7( 9):e41449,
2012 | doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041449.
3. I.e. an in-flight heart rate of about 65–80 beats per minute, compared
to 65 b.p.m. at rest, and a high of 230 b.p.m. when walking on land or
taking off (from land or sea). Weimerskirch, H., and 4 others, Fast and
fuel efficient? Optimal use of wind by flying albatrosses, Proc. R. Soc.
Lond. B 267(1455):1869–1874, 2000 | doi: 10.1098/rspb.2000.1223.
4. Fowler, C., Flying without flapping: The wandering albatross and the
mechanics of dynamic soaring, blogs.bu.edu, 17 November 2012.
5. Traugott, J., Nesterova, A., and Sachs, G., The nearly effortless flight
of the albatross: Measuring and modeling the bird’s aerial behavior
could inspire new drone designs, spectrum.ieee.org, 28 June 2013.
6. Engineers identify key to albatross’ marathon flight: Flying in shallow
arcs helps birds stay aloft with less effort, sciencedaily.com, 11
7. Pennycuick, C.J., Gust soaring as a basis for the flight of petrels and
albatrosses (Procellariiformes), Avian Science 2:1– 12, 2002.
8. See Chapter 4: Flight, pp. 63–82, in Sarfati, J., By Design: Evidence
for nature’s Intelligent Designer—the God of the Bible, Creation Book
Publishers, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 2008.
The wingspans of the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans)
and the other great albatrosses can be up to 3. 7 m ( 12 ft)—the
longest of any bird living today.
B.Ag. Sc.(Hons.), Ph. D.
After working as a plant physiologist and science
educator, Dr Catchpoole worked for many years
as a scientist/speaker for Creation Ministries
International (Australia). He continues to write for
CMI. For more: creation.com/catchpoole.
4 wt r
Albatrosses are renowned for their intimate greeting
dances when the male or female of each lifelong pair
returns to the nesting colony from a fishing expedition.
The synchronized dance can involve distinct phases of
preening, calling, bill-clacking, gentle caressing of
each others’ bills—and various combinations of these
and other behaviours.
With their long, narrow wings, albatrosses are superb
long-distance super-gliders, but landing (especially
in little or no wind) can be problematic. In the
northern hemisphere, albatrosses have been
dubbed ‘gooney birds’ partly because of
their awkward-looking landings.