By Katherine J. Wu/Smithsonianmag.com
No creature knows the sea quite like the albatross.
Boasting wingspans of up to 11 feet—the largest of any bird alive today—these feathered goliaths, native to the Southern Ocean and North Pacific, are built to soar. Gliding at speeds that often exceed 50 miles per hour, they can cover vast swaths of the sea in minutes, all the while scouring the water for bright flickers of fish. Some species are known to spend years at sea without touching down on land, and a few have even been documented circumnavigating the globe.
With their keen eyes and wandering ways, albatrosses are, in a way, the de facto “sentinels of the sea,” says Henri Weimerskirch, a marine ornithologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research.
Weimerskirch is working to make that title a little more official—by recruiting the seabirds to patrol the ocean for illegal fishing vessels. He and his colleagues have outfitted nearly 200 albatrosses with tiny GPS trackers that detect radar emissions from suspicious ships, allowing the birds to transmit the locations of fishers in the midst of illicit acts. The results of the tracking method were published today in a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences…..