Celebrity albatross leaves New Zealand for South American waters

Internet sensation - Moana the royal albatross - has fledged and started the next part of her life’s journey.

After eight months at Taiaroa Head, internet sensation Moana the royal albatross has fledged and started the next part of her life’s journey.

In January 2016, the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) set up a web cam beside an albatross nest at the Royal Albatross Colony at Taiaroa Head, on the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin, for the first time. The parents took turns guarding and feeding the chick for the first five weeks, then left Moana alone, returning for feeding visits during the next eight months.

Moana is now heading toward South American waters and will spend between four to 10 years at sea before touching land again. There is a good chance she may return to Taiaroa Head to start a family of her own.

Since she hatched in January this year, Moana has become an internet sensation as thousands of people throughout the world have watched her on a web cam. The royal cam webpage has received over 600,000 views from more than 100 countries.

Both parents played an important role in raising the chick while DOC rangers monitored and cared for the chick, making Moana’s first eight months a team effort.

Moana had been “the star attraction at the centre this year” according to Hoani Langsbury, manager of operations at Taiaroa Head for Otago Peninsula Trust. “We’re all sad to see her go as she has captured thousands of hearts around the world. We’ve had people from all over New Zealand come on our tours especially to see her.”

Preparations for a new webcam in 2017 have begun as Royal Albatross Centre staff look for their next internet star – and that won’t be far away because the first royal returns have swooped in for the spring breeding season.

The arrival of the adolescent and adult birds coincides with the departure of the fledgling chicks. Fledgling albatross, once they take their first flight, will not touch land for over five years until they return to Taiaroa Head for breeding.

Their arrivals were celebrated across the city of Dunedin with church bells ringing at 1pm on 26 September, a long held tradition. Local fans joined in with the bell chimes on their mobile phones, and the mayor’s office flew the flag of welcome.

Dunedin hosts the world’s only mainland royal albatross breeding colony which is a source of local pride and a symbol of the city that calls itself ‘the wildlife capital of New Zealand’.

The first bird back this season is Red / Orange / Blue – identified by his leg bands; ROB has often been the first bird of the season. ROB hatched in 1984 making him 33 in January 2017. He first bred in 1991 and has survived four partners. He last bred with his fourth partner in 2012/13 season, where they successfully fledged a chick. Since then, he has been a loner - presumably still waiting on his last partner because he hasn’t been seen displaying with other birds.

The 2015/16 breeding season has been the second most successful season on record, with 26 chicks raised of which 19 have fledged so far. The colony is home to around 250 albatross which, once mature, breed every two years.

About Taiaroa Head Royal Albatross Colony – Otago Peninsula

British naturalist Sir David Attenborough has described the Otago Peninsula and Taiaroa Head as “a unique and very special place … that every visitor to Dunedin should see” and it’s not hard to see why. With the southern hemisphere’s only mainland breeding albatross colony at Taiaroa Head, it’s possible for visitors to see these majestic seabirds with a wingspan of three metres soaring at speeds of up to 120 km per hour. Visit between September and November to see the breeding birds arriving at the headland and building nests. December and January see parents incubating their eggs. Chicks hatch from late January to early February, growing to 10-12 kilo giants over the next few months, when viewing is superb and, aided by a strong gust of wind, take their first flight in September.

The Royal Albatross Centre is managed by the Otago Peninsula Trust, a charitable trust, which works closely in partnership with the Department of Conservation to protect and enhance the royal albatross colony while allowing visitors access to the nature reserve.

Travel Tips

Air New Zealand has daily flights to Dunedin. The Royal Albatross Centre, a 45-minute drive away at Pukekura, offers 60 and 90-minute guided tours to the albatross nature reserve. Visitors can enjoy more of the ‘wildlife capital of New Zealand’ by taking a half or full day inclusive tour from Dunedin City. A university town with rich Scottish heritage, Dunedin is known for its impressive historic architecture and its buzzy nightlife.