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There are about 15,500 albatross pairs on New Island, one of the Falkland Islands. These formidable seabirds are rather unique in the animal kingdom because they mate for life. It takes both parents to raise a chick, and most couples have families year after year. But researchers are finding that the ongoing climate crisis is taking its toll on albatross couples.
Fifteen years of data indicates that when water temperatures rise, it’s difficult for albatrosses to find food. Less plentiful food – such as fish and squid – and poor health resulting from arduous searches for sustenance have led to more albatross "divorces," the term used to describe monogamous mates that call it quits. For years, divorce rates were consistently around 3.7 percent. However, researchers noted that in 2017, as temperatures in the South Atlantic rose, the number of couples splitting up shot up to 7.7 percent.
Albatrosses in and out of love:
- Typically, if an albatross pair can't successfully raise a chick – because an egg never hatches or because the chick doesn't survive – the female declares the love affair over, and the birds go their separate ways.
- Albatrosses spend a great deal of time searching the ocean alone, and only return New Island to mate with their partners. When food is limited, they return in poor health and are less likely to breed successfully, scientists say.
- "Higher levels of stress hormones in females might lead them to misinterpret this higher stress as a poor performance by the partner and therefore divorce," lead researcher Francesco Ventura, a biologist at the University of Lisbon, explained.