Friday mystery object #74 answer

On Friday I gave you another bird skull to identify:

As expected, the regulars immediately waded in with correct identifications to the group, based on the scars from the salt glands on top of the head, bill shape (including the groove running from the nostril) and the size of the specimen no doubt. So congratulations go to Dave Hone, Jake, jonpaulkaiser, KateV, cromercrox, David Craven, Matt King and Curianth (everyone who commented in fact) – you were all correct in suggesting that this is the skull of an Albatross (a member of the family Diomedeidae).

Several different species of Albatross were suggested, but unfortunately I must confess that I am uncertain about which species this one is from. I am however certain from the size and bill shape that it’s from the genus Thalassarche, which narrows it down to one of five or ten species (depending on whether you’re a taxonomic lumper or splitter) and rules out the Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans Linnaeus, 1758. Several of you suggested Black-browed Albatross T. melanophris (Temminck, 1828) and Jake mentioned the Yellow-nosed Albatross T. chlororhynchos Gmelin, 1789, which is probably my preferred identification at the moment.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of a complete enough identification guide to allow all Albatross species to be distinguished from skull material, but I will be reassessing this specimen on the basis of the paper by Dénes & Silveira 2007, which provides some useful characters for distinguishing between three species in the genus in question. If anyone else knows of a good guide please let me know!

Finally, I want to make mention of the BirdLife International campaign to save the albatross (supported by the RSPB amongst other global ornithological organisations) – the depressing fact is that Albatrosses are doing very poorly due to modern fishing methods and litter in the oceans. There are solutions to some of these problems so I urge you to take a look at how you can make a difference, whether it be by saving postage stamps (perhaps within your place of work), by being more responsible about the fish you buy or by supporting the campaign directly. It’s sobering to think that the skulls may be all that the next generation will find of these magnificent birds.

Depressing video below…


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