On the Lookout for Albatross


English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge published a now well-known poem called "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in 1798. In the poem, a sailor tells the story of an ocean journey that starts off well but quickly gets worse when a storm blows his ship off course and into icy, Antarctic waters. An albatross appears overhead, and according to the narrator, it helps the sailors escape the ice. The crew thanks the albatross by giving it food, but as it is eating, the narrator makes the grave mistake of shooting the bird with a crossbow. What follows is a series of misfortunes, all thought to be a result of harming the mystical bird. This poem is the most widely-known example of the tradition of the albatross in sailing culture.

What tradition did I learn about?:

I learned about the albatross as a symbol of good luck to those sailing on the open ocean. Albatross are very large birds that live in many places around the world, but especially in the South Atlantic Ocean and around many of the Antarctic islands. They can fly long distances, surviving on the open ocean by drinking ocean water and filtering the salt out through their nostrils. For as long as humans have been making long, open-ocean voyages, the arrival of an albatross (especially if it flies directly over your ship) is a sign that your journey will be successful and safe.