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The Mysteries of Albatross Flight Through the Eyes of an Oceanographer

By April Gaydos

To those that have witnessed it, the spectacular sight of an albatross in flight over the open sea is a captivating experience that takes over the imagination and won’t let go. Gliding, dipping, and looping over the surface of the water, albatrosses can fly for thousands of miles, even around the world, with hardly a flap of their wings. How do they accomplish this feat? It took the special insights of an oceanographer with a passion for flying to help solve this mystery. The oceanographer, Phil Richardson, happens to be a seasonal resident of San Miguel, which offers us an opportunity to learn about his discoveries in albatross flight and how it connects to his life-long area of study, ocean currents, the undersea highways that transport nutrients, salt, and other chemicals and help regulate the planet’s weather, climate;,and marine ecosystems.

Audubon de México Nature Matters Presentation
The Mysteries of Albatross Flight Through the Eyes of an Oceanographer
Wed, Feb 17, 1:30pm
Auditorio M. Malo
Bellas Artes
Hernández Macías 75
415 111 4518
60 pesos (Audubon members free)

Although he grew up on a cattle ranch, Phil was not destined to be tethered to the land, for his passions were directed toward the sky and sea. As a young boy, he became fascinated with flying and eventually earned his pilot’s license and learned to fly gliders and enjoyed hang-gliding as well. But it was his love of sailing and his service with the US Coast Survey that led him to become an oceanographer with a long and remarkable career at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

It was in 1997, while standing on the deck of a research ship watching albatrosses effortlessly maneuvering over the South Atlantic Ocean, that Phil began to ponder the mysteries of their flight. What particularly amazed Phil was that these birds were flying into the wind, while still keeping up with his ship.  Phil’s flying experience and his knowledge of the sea converged in this moment, but it wasn’t until he retired in 2008, followed by his reading an interesting, but unsatisfying, article about albatrosses in National Geographic, that he began to earnestly seek more satisfactory answers to explain albatross flight. His experiences as a scientific researcher, a pilot, and a student of the sea would guide him during his eight-year journey of research and discovery.

On Wednesday, February 17, Phil will share his work on albatrosses with us and use his unique collection of personal photos and renderings to illustrate his talk. He will describe how his research has led to current work developing a robotic albatross that could soar over the ocean on search and rescue, surveillance, and environmental monitoring missions. In addition, Phil will address how climate change is affecting ocean currents and altering the relationship between wind, water, and wings that albatrosses rely upon to propel themselves around the world with hardly a flap of their wings.  We hope you will join us for this fascinating talk that touches the part of us that is drawn to the freedom of flight and the realm of wonder.


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